Fatal Oregon Boating Accident Highlights New Laws and Enforcement Standards

The death of a 13-year-old boy in a boating accident on Hagg Lake in Washington County has highlighted a number of safety issues we all need to keep in mind during this holiday weekend and in the coming weeks before fall sets in.

According to The Oregonian, the boy died “after he was hit by a motorboat.” A 21-year-old man “was arrested and is facing charges of boating under the influence, second-degree manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.” The newspaper quotes a Washington County sheriff’s spokesman saying that he was not sure whether the boy was swimming or wading at the time he was struck, but that it is clear the fatal incident occurred “not very far off the shore.”

Terrible tragedies like this always raise a significant number of legal issues. A few of those are touched on by The Oregonian, such as reckless endangerment and BUI (the boating equivalent of DUI), which is specifically governed by ORS 830.325. This statute is far more general than the better known ones governing DUI. A boater violates it by simply operating the boat “under the influence of an intoxicating liquor, cannabis, an inhalant or controlled substance.” The law does not set a legal threshold for “influence”. Related sections explicitly forbid reckless boating (ORS 830.315) and, perhaps significantly, extend liability for reckless activity to the boat’s owner (ORS 830.330).

In many ways, Oregon law treats boat and car accidents similarly. Indeed, ORS Chapter 830 specifically frames liability issues with reference to cars (“The owner of a boat shall be liable for the negligent operation of the boat in the same manner and to the same extent as the owner of a motor vehicle is liable under the rule of law” – ORS 830.330). That, in turn, means that a number of legal doctrines we usually think of in other contexts may also apply to this case. These include possible actions for Oregon wrongful death and endangering a child. The latter could also apply in the case of other children who were near the scene of the accident if they were also placed in danger by the boat operator.

Several new boating laws took effect this year and those, too, raise important questions. Had the man operating the boat taken the safety course that is now required by state law? If the boat was a rental, did the rental company check both the course and whether he holds a valid boating license? And was the rental company itself properly registered with the state, as is now required? Did the boat itself have all the necessary safety equipment and was it in proper working order? These laws all apply regardless of whether the boat was a rental, the operator’s property or something he had borrowed from a friend.

All of these are questions that require thorough examination. As an Oregon lawyer supporting victim’s rights and helping families obtain justice I will be keeping a close eye on this case. It has been a long and difficult year and everyone wants to get outdoors while the weather is still good. We cannot, however, let that natural desire get in the way of sensible and necessary safety precautions either during this holiday weekend, or for the remainder of the fall.


The Oregonian: 13-year-old boy killed at Hagg Lake after boating accident, officials say

Oregon State Marine Board: Statewide and Local Regulations

Oregon State Marine Board: New Laws for 2020


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