Product Liability Lawsuit Over Boat Accident Results in $31M Verdict

A California jury has awarded $31 million to the families of two women who were seriously injured by the propeller of a boat they fell out of in 2006. 

The product liability lawsuit was filed by the families of Niki Bell and Bethany Mercer against MasterCraft Boat Co. and Jerry Montz, the driver.

According to the complaint, the X-45 MasterCraft wakeboarding boat was holding 18 people when it became partially submerged, causing Bell and Mercer (then Wallenburg) to fall out of the boat and into the spinning propeller on July 9, 2006.

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Both women received disfiguring injuries as a result of the boat  accident. Bell lost her left eye, suffered multiple skull fractures and received damage to the frontal lobe of her brain. Bell will require medical care for the rest of her life. Mercer was injured along her arm, leg and back.

The lawsuit claimed that MasterCraft rated the 24-foot pleasure craft for wakeboarding with 18 people, but never actually tested the boat at full capacity. In addition, there were ladder holes which allegedly caused the boat to take on more water when it was heavily loaded.

During the trial, attorneys for the boat company blamed Montz, who they alleged overloaded the boat before conducting wakeboarding runs with Bell and Mercer seated on the gunwale.

Following a 49-day trial and more than two days of deliberations, a Butte County Superior Court jury awarded Bell $30.9 million and Mercer $530,688 on June 7, 2011. They determined that MasterCraft was 80% responsible for the women’s injuries because the boat was defectively designed, and Montz was 20% responsible due to negligence in his operation of the boat.

The verdict has been stayed for 60 days to allow attorneys to file additional motions.

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