A 2005 Accident that killed a 14 year old girl and left a 15 year old with severe injuries concluded with a $35 million verdict.
This horrific story of negligence, failure to warn, and negligent design began Easter weekend 2005 when Jaysell Perez, 14, and her best friend, Samantha Archer, 15, borrowed a Yamaha WaveRunner water scooter from a family friend, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Eugene Holly.
Archer approached a boat in the Intracoastal Waterway near Currie Park in West Palm Beach and took her hand off the throttle to begin a turn. Instead of turning, the WaveRunner collided with the 30-foot boat.
Perez died in the collision, and Archer suffered severe injuries. The families filed separate lawsuits, and the cases were combined for a single trial.
Attorneys for the families claimed Yamaha knew of a steering problem but failed to provide a proper warning or redesign.
As reported in The Daily Business Review, Edward Karnes, an expert on human factors — a field that studies how humans interact with technology — explained that when a person sees a potential collision, the normal instinct is to restrain the energy source.
A novice operator like Archer would let go of the throttle to slow the watercraft. Keeping a hand on the throttle, which was required to maintain control, is counter intuitive.
From 1986-2000, owner’s manuals warned beginners were likely to release the throttle when headed toward an obstacle. In 2001, the warning was removed. The girls rode a 2001 model, but Yamaha did not redesign its water scooter to address the steering issue until 2003.
The jury was asked two design defect questions — whether the design is unreasonably dangerous to the ordinary consumer and whether the defect was the direct cause of the accident.
Mark Speaks, president of Yamaha’s watercraft division, denied knowing of any other complaint about throttle steering, despite having knowledge of four prior claims in which he actually testified.
Perez’s parents asked for $21 million in damages, and Archer requested $7 million to $76 million.
Yamaha witnesses looked at accident statistics to make the argument that the frequency of water scooter accidents was due to their popularity and proliferation, and not because of anything inherently dangerous in the design.
Jurors apportioned 88 percent liability to Yamaha and 10 percent liability to Nicolette Archer, Samantha’s mother, for giving the girls permission to use the WaveRunner. Samantha Archer and Holly were each apportioned 1 percent liability, reducing the $39.8 million award.
The fact that Yamaha had knowledge of prior accidents, and failed to warn users and/or correct the problem is evidence of negligence. These types of verdicts highlight the importance of our judicial system, and the work of Trial Lawyers. But for our legal system of justice and personal injury laws and lawyers, large corporations like Yamaha would be even more hesitant to make changes in the way they conduct business.
The facts in this case were so particularly egregious, that I am surprised the court struck the claim for Punitive Damages-which are meant to punish the wrongdoer.
While no amount of money will ever replace what these families lost, the verdict will provide Samantha Archer with money to pay for her past and future medical bills, and will try to compensate her for her pain and suffering damages, emotional damages and loss of enjoyment of life.
The Perez family has suffered the greatest loss of all; the loss of a child. The Florida Wrongful Death Statute recognizes the parent’s claim for the loss of their child. Florida Statute 768.21states:
(4) Each parent of a deceased minor child may also recover for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.
Again, money can never replace what these families have suffered. However, this measure of compensation may force companies to think twice when placing profits over people.