Two teen girls, who were awarded $3.385 million and $1.063 million, respectively, plus an additional $1.5 million each in punitive damages for orifice injuries sustained after falling off the back of a personal watercraft, emerged successful in an appeal filed by the device manufacturer.
In Colombo v. BRP US, Inc., a California appellate court rejected manufacturer’s assertion that plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence of inadequate warning of orifice injuries or that this omission was not reckless and/or grossly negligent to the degree it warranted punitive damages.
In fact, the court backed the jury’s finding – that under federal maritime law, the conduct of manufacturer showed reckless and callous disregard for the rights of others, and these actions were at least partially the cause of plaintiffs’ injuries. The other two defendants, the operator of the vehicle and its owner, were also found to share one-third of the blame.
Our Sarasota tourist injury lawyers recognize that despite the proliferation of these craft in Florida waters, they pose all kinds of hazards. Beyond the obvious risk of a crash, personal watercraft in particular pose a danger of orifice injuries, caused by the extreme force of water (800 pounds of force) thrust out of the jet nozzle.
This is a hazard known by the manufacturer. In fact, it is recommended that those riding on the device wear wetsuits, which are better designed to protect against this kind of injury. However, in this case, the warning was slapped on the console just underneath the handlebars – where the 16-year-old riders were unable to see. Both were wearing two-piece bathing suits.
Operator was an employee of a store that sold the vessels. The store owned the vessel. At no point did the owner or operator warn the girls that such suits were not recommended or that such injuries were a potential risk. The store did not routinely offer wet suits to riders unless they were riding in deeper water or if the water was a colder than usual temperature.
Victims would later testify the operator of the craft intentionally tossed them from it, putting them directly in the path of the jet thrust. The result was that one suffered serious injury to her vagina, and the other to her rectum. This resulted in surgeries, long-term pain and difficulty with controlling bowel movements. One was told she would not be able to naturally deliver a child, should she ever choose to become pregnant. They indicated that had they known the risks, they either would have worn a wet suit or chosen not to ride at all.
Manufacturer argued on appeal that trial court was wrong to exclude evidence that, while it had knowledge of prior claims of orifice injuries, those claims were not substantially similar to this one. Appellate court disagreed.
The court found that while there was conflicting evidence in the case, there was a substantial evidence of that supported the jury’s findings. Thus, the verdict and damages were affirmed.
Personal watercraft injuries tend to be under-reported, and not all may be serious enough to warrant medical attention. However, we would urge anyone who has suffered this type of trauma to seem medical intervention and then consult with an experienced lawyer to determine whether you may have a case.
If you have been a victim of a boating accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Colombo v. BRP US, Inc., Oct. 31, 2014, Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One
More Blog Entries:
Wright v. Carroll – Sudden Emergency Doctrine, Nov. 8, 2014, Sarasota Injury Lawyer Blog