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The spring season begins with tragedy as a rescue effort turns into a recovery effort in search of the body of Jeremy Cross, the first victim of 2016 lost to leisure boating accident.   As Nashville gets geared up for another season of lake-bound boating, canoeing, paddle-boarding and waterside fun, The Rocky McElhaney Law Firm would like to stress the importance of both lake and boating safety in hopes to prevent future tragedies from occurring.   

Never underestimate the power of a lake.  Never overestimate your ability to swim to safety.  Sadly this is what may have happened to 36-year old Jeremy Cross just last month.

Cross, his 10-year old son and family friend were out canoeing on the Percy Priest Lake in Donelson-Nashville area on April 3, 2016 during high winds and were overtaken by 1 and 2 foot waves.  Cross’ canoe capsized.  He wasn’t wearing a life jacket.  His son and the family friend managed to swim to safety, but their father and friend never resurfaced.   

Certainly, this is a horrifying story, and our hearts are heavy for the Cross family and friends as they continue their search for Jeremy Cross’ body and move towards some sense of closure.    

Why are lakes so deadly?  People take more chances

When people think of the ocean, they know what they’re in for; big waves, big fish, storms sometimes seemingly arising from nowhere.  So folks sailing the ocean blue tend to take more precautions.  But typically, those very same people wouldn’t consider a lake anywhere close to the same level of danger as an ocean.  When people picture a lake, they think calm, shallower waters, low to no current, and the ability to maneuver more quickly since the current isn’t necessarily pulling you in one direction or another.   But lakes actually do have currents which are generated by different factors.   

Wind – As the air drags over the surface of the lake it pulls the water with it. This usually produces waves.  After the wind dies down the waves can dissipate but there might still be a current flowing.

Water density – Changes in temperature cause the water to rise or fall. Warm rising and cold sinking waters are what drive the ocean currents, and the same can take place in a lake, particularly in the fall or spring months. Also, if you have waters entering the lake that have significantly different temperatures or chemistry, then currents would flow to take the more dense water deeper and less dense water shallower.

Inflow and outflow – When the waters enter or exit the lake there will be a current.  Depending on the rate of flow, the current could extend quite a bit further than you might normally expect.

Bathymetry – The underwater topography of the lake bed can help to funnel currents and amplify them. Sometimes currents can show up where you might not expect them. It’s the shape of the unseen lake bed that’s directing the water.

No one is too big, too smart, or too good of a swimmer for a life jacket

As seen with the tragic Jeremy Cross drowning story, high winds and storms can take a peaceful day on the lake and turn it into a leisure boater’s nightmare in seconds.  Cross likely wasn’t wearing his life-jacket for several reasons; either because, like many, he may have thought he was a strong enough swimmer to get to shore if the canoe capsized without a life vest, or the life vest may have been poorly fit or uncomfortable, or he may have never thought that lake waves could become so high and unforgiving.        

Causes of boating accidents

According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), which is the agency that administers Tennessee’s boating safety program, there were 154 reportable boat accidents in 2013.  Out of those, there were 25 boating fatalities, which is up from 18 deaths in the previous year.

Strangely enough, it’s not the weather on Tennessee waters that is the primary cause of most boating accidents.  Inclement and dangerous weather actually come in at the bottom of the list, while most capsized boats and water wrecks, injuries and deaths are due to negligence or preventable operator-error-related causes.  Alcohol or drug use was a contributing factor in 32 percent of these boating of 2013’s fatalities.

Under the TWRA, a boating accident is only a reportable incident if it involves death, a missing person, an injury which requires treatment beyond first aid or property damage of $2,000 or more. The top causes of reported incidents are as follows (from greatest number of reported incidents to least):    

  • Improper Lookout
  • Operator inexperience
  • Operator inattention
  • Excessive speed
  • Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Water skier mishap
  • Equipment failure
  • Overloaded vessel
  • Hazardous waters
  • Weather conditions

Liability in boating accidents

Watercraft operators have a duty to operate their boats in a safe manner in the water just as a driver of a vehicle would have on the roadway.

Just as with motor vehicle accidents, if an accident occurs, the negligent party who is responsible for having caused the accident may be held responsible for damages in civil court.

Many of the most common boat accident injuries can leave a victim with life-long, and life altering injuries like head and spinal trauma.  At the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm, we fight on behalf of injury victims across Tennessee whose lives have been turned upside down by someone else’s carelessness.  We help people burdened by debilitating injuries get the justice and financial recovery they have coming.

If you have been seriously injured in a boating accident due to the negligence of others, or if your boat crash was caused by a defective part,  our Nashville personal injury, wrongful death and product liability lawyers can pursue a claim against the the responsible party to seek the benefits and compensation you deserve for your injuries.  Our boating injury attorneys help you navigate a course for that new future, and explain your options going forward.  Call today for a free consultation, (615)425-2500.  We fight for you!