Consumers trust that when they get on a boat or jet ski, the machine will work as intended and will not be unreasonably unsafe for use. Unfortunately, not all manufacturers and distributors adhere to strict safety guidelines.
There is also a high potential for operator error, particularly given the lax standards and enforcement for Florida boat licensing and commercial water craft operation.
The recent case of Colombo v. BRP US Inc. was one in which two teenage girls were seriously and permanently injured by a defective and inherently dangerous watercraft that was negligently operated. Jurors determined the personal watercraft owner, operator and manufacturer were each one-third liable for injuries sustained by the girls as a result, and a California appellate court recently upheld that verdict on appeal.
Our Fort Lauderdale tourist injury attorneys know while this was an out-of-state case, the issues are still highly relevant to plaintiffs in similar circumstances in Florida.
According to court records, the teens were in town to help move one of the girl’s sister in with her boyfriend. The boyfriend’s roommate worked at a watercraft store, and as a “reward” for helping move, the boyfriend arranged to have the girls meet him at the store to go jet-skiing.
Each girl wore a two-piece bathing suit, and no one in the group wore a wet suit, though the girls did wear life jackets. The girls boarded the back of a single jet-ski, with boyfriend’s roommate driving. At no point did he give them safety instructions. A warning printed under the handlebars on the console of the device indicated there could be severe injuries to body cavities as a result of falling near the jet thrust nozzle. The warning also indicated normal swimwear would not provide adequate protection against forceful water entry into lower body openings of both males and females. The girls say they were not driving and had no intention to drive the device that day, and thus did not see the warning.
At first, all were having fun. However, at one point, operator made a sharp turn, causing both girls to fall off. They believed this intentional, and told operator not to do it again. However, they fell off again, and both suffered severe injuries to their lower orifices as a result of the jet stream of the jet-thrust nozzle. Muscles were severed, and they required emergency surgery, with one having to wear a colostomy bag while she healed – including at school. One continued to experience problems with anal leakage and control, making her feel as if she was “ruined.” The other girl continues to take medication and was told if she ever wanted to bear children, it would have to be done via cesarean section.
A jury found the owner of the craft (the store), the operator of the craft (store’s employee) and the manufacturer each liable for the crash. They also awarded punitive damages against the manufacturer, finding reckless and callous disregard for plaintiff’s rights and safety.
On appeal, manufacturer argued evidence was insufficient to support causation and punitive damages. The appellate court disagreed, and affirmed the verdict and damages award.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Colombo v. BRP US Inc., Oct. 30, 2014, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One
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Auto Owners Ins. Co. v. Foster – Vehicle Ownership Key in Injury Action, Nov. 5, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Lawyer Blog