Boating Accident Wrongful Death Lawsuit Cleared For Trial

Lawsuit claims pontoon boat design and lack of propeller guards caused a teen girl's death after falling overboard.

A federal judge has cleared the way for a wrongful death lawsuit filed against a boat maker and propeller engine manufacturer to proceed to trial, involving claims that a teenage girl died in a boating accident due to a lack of propeller guards on a pontoon boat.

The complaint (PDF) was originally filed in 2019 by Mark Reed, the Father of Madison Reed, who died in August 2017 at the age of 14, when she fell off a “Sun Tracker Party Barge 20” pontoon boat on a lake in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The lawsuit named Tracker Marine Retail, LLC and Mercury Marine as defendants.

According to allegations raised in the boating accident lawsuit, Madison Reed was on a lake trip with several friends on the boat, when she fell overboard and died from a combination of blunt force trauma and drowning. She and her friends were on the open bow of the boat at the time, and her father indicates that the boat was defectively designed, because of the lack of propeller guards and the open bow design.

Defendants sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that the boat had been misused and that the misuse was unforeseen. However, U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler in the Northern District of Alabama rejected the motion seeking a summary judgment and dismissal of two expert witnesses.

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In a Memorandum of Opinion (PDF) issued on December 7, Judge Coogler did agree to dismiss one expert witness and the plaintiffs’ claims for attractive nuisance and breach of implied warranties, but otherwise is allowing the case to move forward toward trial.

Judge Coogler rejected claims by the defendants that the girl misused the boat, indicating that it was not unforeseen, since Tracker warned about the use. However, the opinion allows the claim to proceed for a jury to determine whether the warnings were clear or could have caused confusion, even for expert boaters. The judge also left the decision on whether propeller guards would have been a practical, alternative design as a question of fact best decided at trial.

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