Mon 9th Oct | 2023

Clark Fountain Secures Historic $100M Settlement from Malibu Boats Following Heartbreaking Loss of a 7-Year-Old Child

Accidents Boating Laws & Safety Personal Injury Press Release Product liability Wrongful Death BY

Florida Plaintiff Personal Injury Firm Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Littky-Rubin & Whitman, led by partners Donald R. Fountain, Jr., Julie H. Littky-Rubin, and Ben J. Whitman, in collaboration with Atlanta attorneys Drew Ashby and Max Thelen, has successfully secured an unprecedented $100M settlement against Malibu Boats, LLC. This monumental accomplishment follows 7 years of litigation, two appeals and a grueling three-week trial in Rabun County, Georgia, centered around the tragic 2014 boat swamping incident that led to the death of 7-year-old Ryan Batchelder.

The jury’s record-breaking $200 million verdict was the highest compensation ever awarded for a wrongful death case in Georgia’s history.

The $100M settlement reached while the case was pending on appeal is impressive in amount but is even more monumental because Malibu only carried $26M of insurance coverage. This forced the company to pay the settlement from its own coffers, and not from insurance. The settlement spawned a separate bad faith lawsuit filed by Malibu against its insurance carriers Chubb and Starr, for failing to settle the case before trial. That case is currently pending.

The harrowing incident took place during a 2014 Batchelder family reunion at Lake Burton, Rabun County, Georgia. While enjoying a day on a rented 2000 Malibu Response LX open bow ski boat, the Batchelder family experienced a life-altering catastrophe. A low-speed bow swamping incident caused young Ryan who was seated in the bow seat and wearing a life jacket to be swept overboard as the bow went underwater and horrifically entangled in the boat’s unprotected propeller, leading to his premature death.

The jury identified Malibu Boats West, Inc., and Malibu Boats, LLC, manufacturers of the 2000 Malibu Response LX, as bearing responsibility for the swamping. They concluded that the boat’s design, which after years of manufacture added additional seating in the bow to the previously closed bow boat, without any engineering analysis, posed significant risks and made the boat dangerously prone to swamping with the weight of occupants in the bow. The jury held the Malibu defendants accountable for failing to warn users of the boat’s inherent swamping risks after the risk was well known to the company.

Despite the continual efforts of the plaintiff’s legal team, led by Donald R. Fountain, Jr., to negotiate a pretrial settlement and avoid further trauma for the Batchelder family, Malibu’s insurance companies remained steadfast, not offering more than $2,000,000. Consequently, the jury awarded $80M for Ryan’s pain, suffering, and wrongful death, in addition to $120M in punitive damages against Malibu Boats West, Inc., and Malibu Boats, LLC.

In the aftermath of this groundbreaking verdict and settlement, lead counsel Donald R. Fountain, Jr., prophetically remarked

“This verdict reverberates around the world. It sends a forceful message to Malibu and the entire boating industry. Manufacturers who knowingly disregard life-threatening safety hazards and deliberately withhold information about dangerous conditions will face accountability. This pivotal decision will undoubtedly prompt transformative changes within the boating industry and significantly aid in preventing such tragedies from reoccurring in the future.”

In July of 2023, that transformative change was realized. Malibu issued a nationwide safety warning to users of boats similar to the one that ended up killing young Ryan Batchelder. It advised users of the dangers of boat swamping, and now advises boaters to stay out of the bow when the boat is moving, and to limit the number of passengers. In that “Safety Alert,” Malibu explicitly stated that as a result of the incident (that killed Ryan Batchelder) the company was making changes to prevent that from ever happening again.

About Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Littky-Rubin & Whitman

Based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Littky-Rubin & Whitman stands as a formidable force in the legal arena. We are unafraid to take on complex cases against the nation’s largest insurance companies and product manufacturers. With a collective legal experience of over 200 years and more than $1 billion recovered for injury victims, our team is committed to fearless, aggressive representation. Our dedication extends beyond the courtroom; we aim to drive positive change in various industries, as evidenced by our influence in product recalls and the establishment of new safety standards.