A woman who suffered two broken legs, had a large amount of skin ripped of her thigh in a California (CA) boating accident and who later had to have one her arms amputated above the elbow has received nearly $6 million in injury awards from the operators of both sailboats involved in the collision.

The boater who hit the vessel on which he woman was riding settled out of court for $2 million after admitting that he had failed to yield right of way. His negligence in following the boating rules of the road caused him to crash into the center of the victim’s craft as she was sitting on the gunwale with her legs dangling in the water. The severely injured woman’s teenager daughter was also knocked off her feet by the impact and sustained minor head trauma and a brain injury.

The woman also won a $3.9 million award in a civil personal injury lawsuit against the man at the wheel of the sailboat in which she was riding.

The court award came in Meenan v. Amoia (Case no. 37-2008-00087454) when a San Diego Superior Court judge determined that the defendant failed to maintain a proper lookout. The exact definition what constitutes a proper lookout varies according to the size of the vessel being operated, water conditions, weather and traffic. At a minimum, though, the U.S. Coast Guard states that anyone responsible for keeping a vessel and its passengers and crew safe must “look around and listen for danger in all conditions so you can make good decisions and avoid hitting another boat.”

While I primarily practice law in Virginia (VA), this case caught my attention because my colleagues and I get many calls from people hurt on the water. The California case also shares many of the hallmarks of a sadly fatal boating accident on the James River near Newport News, VA. In that accident, a small fishing boat was struck by a commercial tow boat as the smaller craft emerged from behind a jetty close to the James River Bridge.

Both the man operating the fishing boat, on which his young son lost his life, and the tow boat operator were charged with involuntary manslaughter. The father was acquitted, but the tow boat operator is awaiting trial. Speed, proper lookout and right of way are at issue in the James River accident.

Regardless of the outcome of the local case, both it and the incident in California should remind all boaters to follow the rules of the road on the water. Any lapse of attention can change or end a life forever.