Tue 21st Feb | 2023


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According to the US Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center, there were approximately 11 million registered recreational boats in the United States in 2020. In fact, Florida had over 900,000 registered recreational boats, which is significantly higher than any other state in the country. Florida has consistently held the top spot for registered recreational boats, especially as boating grew in popularity during the pandemic.

Unlike motor vehicles, boats do not have occupant safety restraints, or crash avoidance systems. Surprisingly and unfortunately, there are little to no formal requirements for boat manufacturers to design the interior aspects of boats in such a way that injuries to occupants are prevented or minimized in the event of a crash.

Crashes involving boats resulting in occupant injuries and deaths are common. According to the US Coast Guard’s annual report on recreational boating statistics, there were approximately 4,168 reported boating accidents in the United States in 2020, which resulted in 615 deaths. As a result, injury prevention should be an important consideration during the design process.

Occupant crash protection is just as important in a boat crash as it is in a motor vehicle crash, especially because it is legal to drink and drive a boat. Boats do not have seatbelts or airbags, so boat designers and manufacturers should take extra precautions for the safety of occupants; however, this is not always the case.

Although it is rare for attorneys to pursue claims for crashworthiness against boat manufacturers, Clark Fountain’s, Shana P. Nogues did exactly that in a recent case. This groundbreaking litigation could have far reaching implications.

When an aftermarket boat up fitter added a forward railing system to an existing boat design, they failed to consider the implications of the design in the event of a crash and never evaluated what would happen to an occupant’s body that impacted the aftermarket add-on design feature during a crash.

Unfortunately, a crash occurred and a passenger in the boat who was properly seated and wearing a life jacket struck her head on a 90-degree junction in the railing and suffered a fatal skull fracture. In disbelief and desperate for answers, the victim’s family retained Clark Fountain to investigate the incident.

After employing design engineers and biomechanical injury causation experts, Shana was able to convince the manufacturer that their design was the cause of the young woman’s death when her head struck the aftermarket railing after the boat impacted a bridge support. Shana was also able to establish that the manufacturer owed a duty to consider injury mitigation in the design and should have adopted alternative safer design features.

Due to the unusual nature of the case the defendant hired their own team of experts to fight the case. However, shortly before trial a confidential settlement was reached. Although no settlement can erase the family’s grief, Shana is hopeful that the case will result in other manufacturers adopting design strategies that consider occupant injury prevention and that ultimately other families will be spared from experiencing what our clients endured.

Attorney Shana P. Nogues and Don Fountain welcome boat injury case referrals and the opportunity to co-counsel with attorneys in Florida and the United States. Our recent confidential settlement of a boat defect case highlights the importance of injury mitigation in the design process, and our expertise in personal injury, medical malpractice, product liability, and litigation makes them well-suited to handle complex cases. By working with Clark Fountain, together, we can help your clients seek justice and ensure that other families are spared from similar tragedies.