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Palm Beach County

The plaintiff was a passenger on 18-foot boat when she claimed she was thrown overboard and was hit by the boat’s propeller. The defendant in the case was the manufacturer of the bilge pump installed on the boat. The plaintiff alleged that the bilge pump was defectively manufactured and failed to pump water from the boat, causing the boat to spin out of control and throw the plaintiff from the vessel. The defendant argued that the accident was caused solely by negligence of the non-party boat operator and the plaintiff herself. The boat operator, who was dating the plaintiff at the time of the accident, was listed on the verdict form as a Fabre defendant. The manufacturer of the boat was named as a defendant in the case, but was voluntarily dismissed and also named as a Fabre defendant.

The plaintiff was a 47-year-old female passenger on a flats boat (a shallow water boat) operated by her boyfriend, Ackerman, on March 8, ________. Evidence showed that Ackerman had borrowed the boat from a friend. The boat owner settled the plaintiff’s claim for his insurance policy limit prior to trial.

The plaintiff was sitting on the bow of the boat where no railings were located and she was not wearing a life jacket. The plaintiff testified that the boat suddenly spun to one side and she was thrown into the water where she contacted the boat’s propeller. The boat operator, Ackerman, testified that he was steering a straight course when the boat suddenly spun sharply to one side and he lost control.

The plaintiff’s materials engineer testified that the automatic bilge pump on the boat, a Guardian ________ bilge pump, was defectively manufactured and failed to remove the water which was accumulating in the bottom of the boat. The plaintiff’s engineer testified that a manufacturing defect in the plastic impeller of the bilge pump allowed it to jam and become loose on the shaft, so that the impeller would not move water. The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert opined that the water in the bilge area of the boat caused a destabilization resulting in the sudden and unexpected veering which caused the plaintiff’s accident.

The plaintiff’s medical experts testified that the plaintiff sustained a near amputation of her dominant right forearm and hand. The plaintiff underwent multiple surgeries, including grafting of muscle, skin, tendons and nerves. Muscle, skin and blood vessels were harvested from her left forearm. Tendons and nerves were harvested from the plaintiff’s foot. The plaintiff also underwent implantation of an orthopedic plate to her fractured radius and her thumb was reattached. The plaintiff’s treating physician testified that the plaintiff’s dominant hand is now a "living prosthesis" or "helper hand." The plaintiff testified that she has taught herself to use her left hand for most activities.

The plaintiff was employed as a bookkeeper at the time of the accident. She returned to her former employment after the accident, but subsequently moved to North Carolina. The plaintiff alleged that she suffered a diminution in her future earning ability as a result of her inability to drive and the requirement that she work in a rural setting near her new home.

The defendant bilge pump manufacturer argued that the operator of the boat caused the sudden veering, which resulted in the plaintiff’s injury. The defendant’s engineer testified that the bilge pump was improperly installed and was not properly fused, causing overheating which resulted in the pump failure. The bilge pump at issue was exhibited to the jury. The defendant contended that the interior of the pump showed clear signs of melting from overheating and that the plastic impeller was completely deformed by high temperatures. The defendant’s expert testified that he tested the operation of the boat with some 40 to 50 gallons of water in the bottom and found that the boat operation was more sluggish than normal.

The defense maintained that water in the boat would not have caused the fast spinning action claimed by the plaintiff. The defendant asserted that the plaintiff was comparatively negligent for sitting on the bow and failing to adequately secure herself in the boat. The defendant also disputed the plaintiff claim for loss of future earnings. The defense argued that the plaintiff had returned to her prior employment as a bookkeeper for some three years after the accident. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff’s loss of income stemmed from her move to a small rural area in North Carolina where salaries were less.

The jury found that the bilge pump was manufactured with a defect which was a legal cause of damage to the plaintiff. It found the defendant pump manufacturer 30% negligent and the Fabre co- defendant boat operator 70% negligent. The plaintiff and the Fabre defendant boat manufacturer were found not negligent. The plaintiff was awarded $________ in damages. The award included $________ in past medical expenses, $________ in future medical expenses, $________ in past loss of earnings, $________ in future loss of earnings, $________ in past pain and suffering and $________ in future pain and suffering.

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