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Texas jury decides against Brunswick in personal injury case

By IBI Magazine

A federal jury in Texas yesterday held two divisions of Brunswick Corp partially liable for a 2005 accident on Lake Austin that left a teenager's leg severed by a propeller. The jury, which deliberated for seven hours, said that Brunswick Corp shared more than half of the blame for the accident that injured Jacob Brochtrup. It ordered Brunswick to pay US$3.8m in damages.

Brunswick said in a statement that it stands "behind our products, which are used safely and properly by boaters around the world".

The jury ruled that Brunswick was 66 per cent responsible for the accident, while Brochtrup and another teen driving the boat were each responsible by 17 per cent. Those percentages helped the jury figure monetary damages. Most of the damages were for Brochtrup's medical expenses. But he also received US$100,000 for disfigurement and US$264,000 for physical pain.

"I think they made a well thought-out, informed decision, and I think it was the right decision," Brochtrup told The Austin American Statesman. "Based on the evidence that was presented, I think the case was proven pretty well."

It is rare for a boat manufacturer to be held accountable for a boating accident, unless the case involves a hull or engine defect. Two previous trials of Brochtrup's case had deadlocked juries, resulting in mistrials.

Brochtrup said Sea Ray and Mercury were liable for his injury after a friend backed the boat into him. The lawyer representing Brochtrup argued that Sea Ray and Mercury did not have safety devices, including prop guards, that could have prevented Brochtrup from being injured by the propeller.

"While we at Brunswick remain sympathetic to the plaintiff for this unfortunate accident, we are nevertheless disappointed with today's verdict," Brunswick said in the statement. "We will evaluate our options in this matter going forward, including a possible appeal."

Brochtrup's attorney told the paper that the decision marks the first successful case against the boating industry by a person injured by a motor. The attorney said he wanted to show the jury that boat manufacturers could make motors safer with prop guards.

The US marine industry has fought the idea of installing prop guards on motors, saying that no design has ever proven effective or safe for manoeuvering boats. The US Coast Guard has agreed with them, and consistently refused to order boat and engine builders to install prop guards.

The outcome of the trial will no doubt be closely viewed by personal injury lawyers across the US representing clients injured in boating accidents.

(6 April 2010)

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