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Palm Beach County, FL

This product liability action against Yamaha Motors Corporation involved a collision between a Yamaha WaveRunner, designed and manufactured by the defendant, and a 30 foot speedboat. The 14-year-old passenger on the WaveRunner was killed and the driver claimed multiple debilitating injuries, including traumatic brain damage, as a result of the collision. The plaintiffs (the estate of the decedent and the surviving driver) alleged that the WaveRunner was dangerously designed in that it lost steering when the throttle was released. The defendant maintained that the watercraft was not defective and utilized a steering system which was common in the industry at the time it was manufactured in ________. The defendant argued that the collision resulted from operator error on the part of the inexperienced plaintiff driver.

The plaintiff driver of the WaveRunner testified that she and the decedent borrowed the WaveRunner on Easter Sunday in ________ while attending an Easter party. The girls were operating the personal watercraft in the Intracoastal Waterway near Currie Park in West Palm Beach. As the jet ski approached a cigarette boat, the plaintiff claimed that she took her hand off the throttle in an attempt to turn, but could not steer the WaveRunner and crashed into the side of the moving boat.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant was aware of a steering problem with the WaveRunner which caused a loss of steering when the throttle was released. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant failed to correct the problem or to issue adequate warnings regarding the known defect.

Evidence established that the plaintiff driver was an inexperienced jet ski operator and this was her first time in control of such a watercraft. The plaintiff’s human factors expert testified that the plaintiff’s natural instinct, when encountering the larger boat, would have been to release the throttle. The plaintiff testified that she was unaware that releasing the throttle would result in a loss of steering control.

The plaintiff driver was diagnosed with multiple injuries including massive skin and muscle lacerations; degloving of both upper legs, buttocks and genitals; open book fracture of the pelvis; fracture and complete separation of the right shoulder; maxilla fracture; avulsion fracture and loss of four upper and four lower front teeth; severed patellar tendon and ruptured colon and intestines requiring ostomies. The plaintiff was hospitalized for several months following the accident.

The plaintiff’s physicians opined that the plaintiff will require future hip and knee replacements. The plaintiff also claimed post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury with continuing cognitive deficits. The plaintiff’s experts testified that the plaintiff is prone to volatile behavior and is totally disabled from employment. The plaintiff will require supervision for the remainder of her life and will never be able to live independently, according to her physicians. The plaintiff’s economist estimated the plaintiff’s future life care expenses to be $6.7 million.

The defense denied that the WaveRunner contained inadequate warnings and pointed out that an on-board label stated: "Do Not Release the Throttle When Trying to Steer." The defense maintained that the steering system was a design that was common in the industry at the time the jet ski in question was manufactured in ________.

The defendant argued that the plaintiff driver did not know how to safely operate the WaveRunner. The deposition of an eyewitness, who saw the accident from the balcony of his condominium unit, was read to the jury by the defense. This witness testified that the WaveRunner was accelerating forward under throttle and that the plaintiff driver was attempting to jump the wake of the boat at the time of the collision. The witness contended that the plaintiff driver was not looking when she drove the jet ski into the side of the boat.

The defense contended that the mother of the plaintiff driver, a Fabre defendant, took the girls to the Easter party and gave them permission to go out on the jet ski. The defense claimed that the mother should not have allowed the girls to take out the jet ski, given the fact that they did not know how to safely operate the watercraft.

The defense also argued that the surviving plaintiff operator may have sustained some psychological injury, from which she would eventually recover, but that she had no objective evidence of an organic brain injury. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff was capable of obtaining some type of gainful employment and that she was able to enjoy life as evidenced by several pictures found on Facebook.The jury found that the WaveRunner was defective. It assessed the defendant 88% responsible. The plaintiff operator’s mother (Fabre defendant) was assessed 10% negligence; the plaintiff operator 1% and the owner of the WaveRunner (Fabre defendant) was assessed 1% negligence. The jury awarded gross combined damages of $________. The net award of $________ included $________ to the surviving operator and $________ to the estate of the decedent. Post-trial motions are currently pending.

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