Products Liability lawyers have won a $30 million dollar jury award in California against a boat manufacturing company for causing serious personal injury to 27 year old Niki Bell. Since products liability cases are among the most challenging of personal injury cases for even the most aggressive trial lawyers, this is a good result.
During a low speed turn, Niki Bell was thrown into the water and suffered severe injuries to her head. Ms. Bell's personal injury/products liability lawyers alleged that the MasterCraft Boat Company was negligent in its design of the MasterCraft X45 . The X45 had a design flaw which caused the front end of the craft to partially submerge during low speed turns. This partial submerging is what caused Ms. Bell to be thrown off the boat and suffer catastrophic injuries.
There are several reason why products liability cases are among the most difficult of personal injury cases. First, the injured plaintiff must show that the defendant was negligent in the design or manufacture of the boat. As a practical matter, the plaintiff's attorneys must master very complex engineering knowledge to challenge the defense's experts. Since my partner and I have backgrounds in engineering and also litigate patent cases involving sophisticated technology, this is natural for us. But most lawyers, even the most aggressive personal injury lawyers, may shy away from these kinds of products liability cases.
Secondly, the defendants will attempt to argue that even if the product was defective and caused catastrophic injuries, there were no reasonable alternative designs within reasonable design and cost constraints. It takes a very aggressive trial lawyer to challenge the defense's engineering experts on these points. Niki Bells attorneys were able to use the tools of discovery to find out that MasterCraft Boat Company took two existing boats and combined them. They made the boat very large so a lot of people could be in it. When the boat dips, the water pours in and the front can be submerged. The defendant apparently never conducted a thorough engineering analysis of the new design.
Having personally tried more than 200 cases, I believe that the defendant's failure to conduct a thorough analysis is a major reason for the victory. I know that juries come down hardest on someone who completely fails to do something, rather than on someone who just makes an honest mistake.
The third reason why products liability cases are among the most challenging of personal injury cases is that the defendants will try to point the finger at someone else. Here MasterCraft argued that the boat operator Jerry Montz had been drinking at the time of the accident and registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 percent. He was arrested after the July 9, 2006, accident and later pleaded no contest to negligent operation of a watercraft. There is a strategy that smart personal injury and products liability lawyers use when a defendant tries to blame someone else.I will elaborate on this strategy in a different post.