A California woman has been awarded $21.7 million in damages in a jet ski lawsuit brought after a Polaris Virage collided with another watercraft, leaving her with permanent brain damage.
The complaint was filed by Fabiola Esparza against Polaris Industries Inc. and two other individuals, alleging that problems with the design of the jet ski contributed to her injuries.
Esparza, then 15, and another girl were riding as passengers on a Polaris Virage jet ski operated by Andrew Guiterrez, who was also a teenager at the time, when it collided with a larger boat on Independence Day in 2008. The jet ski crashed into a boat being piloted by Douglas Lane, who local police reported was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Police also determined that both watercraft were travelling at excessive speeds
According to allegations raised in the lawsuit, Guiterrez was unable to avoid the boat because he had let go of the hand-controlled throttle. However, Esparza claimed that as a result of design defects with the Polaris Virage, Guiterrez was unable to steer the jet ski with the throttle in that position.
While a Los Angeles jury found late last month that the drivers of the larger boat and the jet ski were at fault in the accident, it also determined that the design of the Polaris Virage jet ski was largely responsible for Esparza’s severe injuries, which have left the now-20 year old with the mental capacity of a small child and the need for a future lifetime of medical care.
Documents revealed during the trial suggested that Polaris knew about the problem with the Virage jet ski, which allegedly could have been fixed for just an additional $30 per watercraft. That information came from a December 2003 document from the company’s managing engineer, Dave Dickirson.
The jury ruled that the Polaris Virage was defective, but did not find Polaris negligent for failing to correct the problem by adding an off-throttle steering system.
Polaris is responsible for about $11.5 million of the jury award, according to a report by Law360.com. The rest will be split between Lane and Guiterrez. The company stopped production of watercraft in 2004.