Yesterday a federal jury found a boat manufacturer — Brunswick — partially liable in a 2005 prop-injury accident which severed a teenager’s leg. The accident occurred on Lake Austin in 2005. According to the American Statesman newspaper, Brunswick was ordered to pay 3.8 million in medical expenses and damages after jurors found the company shared more than half of the blame.
One of the key points of the suit against Brunswick was that the manufacturer did not have safety devices — like a guard or cover — that would have prevented the teen from becoming entangled or stuck. That the jury actually found the manufacturer shared more than half of the blame marks a major turnaround. To my knowledge, no other similar case has ever been successful. In fact, two previous trials on this exact case ended in mistrials.
“While we at Brunswick remain sympathetic to the plaintiff for this unfortunate accident, we are nevertheless disappointed with today’s verdict,” company officials said in a released statement. “We will evaluate our options in this matter going forward, including a possible appeal.”
The prop issue is a touchy one in the boating industry. While I’m certainly sympathetic to the severely injured teen — now 22 — I also know that thousands of boats are operated safely every day. I also know that the actions of the people involved contributed to the accident. According to the details of the lawsuit, the injured party had just finished wakeboarding and gotten back aboard the boat when the towrope came loose. The teen then jumped into the water behind the boat to retrieve it. The 18-year-old driver, unaware anyone was in the water, then put the boat into reverse.
As a parent, I stress to my children the nature of how a boat works, and the importance of staying put inside the cockpit whenever the engine is running, and turning off the engine before ever attempting to let anyone board or get off the boat in the water. Before you start the engine, always make sure no one is in the water around the boat.
Care is especially critical when skiing or wakeboarding. Always approach a downed skier so that they stay on the starboard side of the boat, clearly in your vision. Never back down on a person in the water. Again, ALWAYS turn off the engine when you’re in close proximity to someone in the water. Neutral isn’t the solution. I know lots of people who think it’s okay to have a boat in neutral when skiers or riders are climbing back aboard. Sorry, but engines must be off…period.
It will be interesting to see whether Brunswick appeals, and what the results are. In the meantime I’ll stress that we — as boat operators and boating/watersports participants — share a lot of responsibility to make sure accidents don’t happen. The driver, especially, is responsible for the safety of all aboard.
It seems to me a lot of things went wrong on that boat back in 2005…