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Napa County, California

The female plaintiff fell off the back of a Polaris jet ski and the jet stream that comes off the back of the machine destroyed the plaintiff’s rectum, doing permanent injury to her internal organs and intestinal tract. The defendant denied that there was a product design defect and argued that the plaintiff failed to heed the safety warning label regarding appropriate clothing.

The plaintiff Ford, a 48-year-old woman was riding as a passenger on a Polaris SLH jet powered personal watercraft when she fell off to the rear of the craft traveling at approximately 25 miles per hour and suffered a severe injury to her rectum caused by the powerful jet stream that propels the boat. The plaintiff was wearing a nylon bathing suit and a lifejacket and had no prior experience with jet powered watercraft. She had been hanging on to the operator (her sister-in-law) and, after a few minutes, was told to hang on to the back grips instead because she was pulling on her. The watercraft did not have a seat strap or other readily identifiable alternate means of securing the passenger.

The plaintiff reached for a grab handle to her rear which made her vulnerable to a rearward ejection when a boat wake was encountered. The plaintiff contended that there was a defective design in that there were not adequate safeguards to protect against rearward ejection. The manufacturer had recognized that there was a special danger of orifice injury to passengers who fell to the rear of the craft when they marketed their first jet powered watercraft. The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s failure to provide passengers with a readily identifiable, reliable, alternate means of securing themselves when they could not hold on to the operator constituted a design defect.

Polaris marketed two and three passenger watercraft during the same model year that were equipped with seat straps but they failed to equip the SLH with a seat strap, the estimated cost of which was fifty cents. Plaintiff also contended that a seatback would have been an even better design feature to prevent rearward ejections.

By ________, all of the jet powered watercraft manufacturers had adopted a warning regarding orifice injuries that was contained on a decal on the back of the watercraft. The warning did not focus on the special danger to passengers, but recommended that all riders use a wetsuit bottom or clothing that provides equivalent protection. The plaintiff contended that it was well known to the manufacturers that riders in warm weather did not wear wetsuits and compliance with such a warning was highly unlikely. Additionally, while recommending the use of wetsuits in their decal and Owner’s Manual, Polaris required purchasers of their watercraft to view a safety video before leaving with their product. The safety video did not mention the special danger to passengers of orifice injuries when ejected rearward and depicted models with skimpy bathing suits operating and riding as passengers on the watercraft. The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s safety video undermined their instructions and warnings rendering the warnings inadequate.

The defendants contended that the plaintiff was negligent in not reading the decals and inspecting the watercraft before boarding it. She could have protected herself by wearing denim shorts over her bathing suit. They further contended that she was negligent in leaning backward to hold on and should have alerted her sister-in-law that she was in an insecure position when the boat was bouncing. They further contended that there were side handles on the watercraft that the plaintiff had overlooked which would have provided her a reliable means of securing herself. They also contended that they had led the industry in warning of the special danger to passengers and that the industry wide warning decals that were used in the ________ models provided more than adequate warning of the hazard. Further the defendant maintained that its product design was similar to that of all other watercraft on the market and was not defective.

The trial in this matter lasted eleven days. The jury deliberated for two and a half days before returning a verdict. The jury poll indicated that the jury voted 10-2 on the issue of design defect, 9-3 on the issue of causation and unanimous on the issue of damages. The jury voted 11-1 on the issue of comparative fault.

The jury awarded the plaintiff and her husband the sum of $________ which was broken down as follows: Non-economic damages: $________; Economic damages: $________ and loss of consortium: $________.

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