Lawsuits filed by two families devastated as a result of recreational boating accidents – including one lawsuit filed on behalf of a Florida family by Firm Partner Don Fountain, from Clark, Fountain, LaVista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin and co-counsel Drew Ashby from The Cooper Firm – have prompted an NBC consumer investigation that reveals alarming industry-wide practices and potential design flaws which may be placing individuals and families in danger.

In response to the pending case, consumer investigative reporters at NBC Washington have been breaking news about a small craft advisory and dangerous boat industry practices. As the investigative report notes, the lawsuit is exposing potential weaknesses in the boating industry and its regulatory oversight, particularly when it comes to the design and testing of boats.

In the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Florida family, 7-year old Ryan Batchelder died after being washed out of the bow seat of a Malibu Response LX boat that his family had rented while on a lake in Georgia. In that case, the bow of the Malibu boat had swamped and dipped under its own wake, causing it to take on water and washing Ryan and another family member overboard. In an attempt to prevent the boat from sinking, the driver put the boat in reverse. Ryan was chopped and became entangled on the propeller and died as a result of drowning and blood loss.

The incident was a tragedy, and it is one the lawsuit alleges could and should have been prevented had Malibu Boats, the manufacturer of the boat rented by Ryan’s family, adequately designed and tested its products.

Depositions in the case, shown on NBC, reveal concerns held by executives at Malibu Boats over the design of the boat in which Ryan was killed. Those concerns focused on a design change that added seats to the bow and placed more weight at the front of the boat than it was originally designed for. Malibu Boats claimed to have tested the new design but did not have documentation or records of such testing.

The investigation also detailed a similar lawsuit filed by a California family that alleged design flaws and poor oversight made by another boating manufacturer MasterCraft that led to one woman suffering a severe head and brain injury and permanent impairments after the boat she was riding in swamped and threw her overboard and into the path of the boat’s propeller. In that case, a jury awarded $30 million dollars and found MasterCraft 80% at-fault for her injuries when it was shown the manufacturer conducted no engineering in the boat’s design and no testing relative to weight or performance. MasterCraft later appealed the verdict and settled the case without admitting liability.

In addition to highlighting potentially dangerous practices in the design of recreational boats, NBC also raises questions about regulations that permit manufacturers to conduct testing of their own boats, rather than a government agency like the U.S. Coast Guard. Under current standards, the U.S. Coast Guard’s authority over recreational boats mostly revolves around safety equipment kept on board, as well as enforcement of laws on the water. This is radically different than the auto industry, where vehicle design and testing are subject to oversight and many regulations.

Pursuing Justice for Families & Change for Public Safety

As Don Fountain and our legal team work with The Cooper Firm to pursue justice and compensation for Ryan’s family, we are hopeful the case, others like it, and publicity generated by the NBC investigation will succeed in warning the public and boating enthusiasts about potential hazards associated with boats they may choose to rent or purchase.

We are also hopeful it will push boat manufacturers, as well as the government and U.S. Coast Guard, which currently have little oversight over the design and testing of recreational boats, to promptly address the issue of safer designs and better testing procedures so other families will not have to endure the profound and life-altering consequences of serious injuries and deaths that should have been prevented. As we discussed in our most recent blog, it is precisely these types of product liability cases, though tragic, that can benefit public safety.

Questions? Contact Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen & Littky-Rubin today at (561) 922-0258 to speak with a member of our team.