Firm Obtains $200 Million Verdict for Family, Whose Son Was Killed Due To A Defectively Designed Boat
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West Palm Beach, Fla., – Updated on September 14, 2021 – Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Littky-Rubin & Whitman is pleased to announce that following a three week trial in Rabun County Georgia, partners Donald R. Fountain Jr., Julie H. Littky-Rubin, Ben J. Whitman, and Atlanta Georgia attorneys Drew Ashby, and Max Thelen successfully secured a $200 million verdict for their clients, Stephan Paul Batchelder and Margaret Mary Batchelder, who tragically lost their 7-year-old son, Ryan Paul Batchelder, in a 2014 boat swamping accident. It was the largest verdict in Rabun County history and the largest single verdict for the pain and suffering for wrongful death in the history of the State of Georgia.
In 2014, the Batchelder family rented a 2000 Malibu Response LX open bow ski boat for a family reunion held at Lake Burton, in Rabun County Georgia. While the boat was being operated at about 5-7 mph and properly loaded at a weight hundreds of pounds below the maximum rated capacity, the bow carrying 4 children swamped washing young Ryan into the water. In an effort to prevent the boat from sinking, the operator, who did not see Ryan leave the boat, briefly put the boat into reverse and Ryan became entangled in the boat’s unguarded propeller. He died as a result of drowning and significant injuries causing extensive blood loss.
Malibu Boats West, Inc., and Malibu Boats, LLC created the 2000 Malibu Response LX open bow boat, by cutting a hole in the forward deck of a closed bow boat and adding seats. The jury determined that occupant weight forward in the boat decreased bow freeboard to unacceptable levels and rendered the boat unreasonably dangerous and susceptible to bow swamping. In addition, the unusual ‘playpen’ bow seat design trapped and held any water flowing over the bow, exacerbating the swamping effect by holding the boat in a bow down orientation. Malibu failed to provide any warnings or guidance to users of the boat that the low bow freeboard design was susceptible to bow swamping if weight was being carried in the bow seat. The jury apportioned 25% of the responsibility for Ryan’s unspeakable death to the Malibu defendants and 75% to the operator.
The firm’s trial team sought damages for Ryan’s pain, suffering and death and also asked the jury to award punitive damages. The trial and verdict came after repeated and countless attempts to settle with the insurance company and to spare the family from having to relive the horror of that day at trial. Unfortunately, the insurance company never offered Ryan’s parents more than $2,000,000 to resolve the case.
The jury found that Malibu Boats West, Inc. and Malibu Boats LLC were negligent for failing to provide warnings concerning the bow swamping hazard associated with the open bow boat. Because the Malibu defendants had actual notice of the swamping hazard and made the conscious decision not to warn the users of the boat, the jury determined that punitive damages were also warranted. The jury awarded 80 million dollars for Ryan’s pain and suffering and wrongful death and an additional $120 million dollars in punitive damages, $40 million dollars to Malibu Boats West, Inc., and $80 million dollars against Malibu Boats, LLC., irrespective of the negligence it found in the driver’s reaction to the sudden and tragic event. The jury also found that Malibu Boats, LLC was a legal successor to the now-defunct Malibu Boats West, Inc., which thwarted Malibu’s attempt to force the verdict onto that defunct entity in an attempt to make any verdict worthless.
In a recent article, Malibu Boats said there were more than two dozen problems with the overall proceedings, including improper jury selection, irrelevant evidence allowed in trial, and erroneous jury instructions. But the motion largely focuses on the size of the nine-figure punitive damages.
“The verdict returned by the jury is internally inconsistent and incapable of supporting the judgment that was entered,” Malibu Boats said in its motion. “The judgment is void. The compensatory and punitive damages awarded by the jury are excessive.”
Don Fountain stated that “The motion for new trial is nothing more than a hollow list of 28 boilerplate allegations unsupported by any facts or reference to an extensive court record spanning five years of litigation. The Court was extremely thorough and conscientious throughout the entire pendency of the case and will have little trouble denying this motion.”
“The jury sent a very loud and clear message to Malibu and the entire boating industry that manufacturers who have actual knowledge of life-threatening safety hazards and intentionally fail to warn and withhold information of dangerous conditions will be held accountable,” Fountain.
Photographed: Max Thelen, Drew Ashby, Stephan Batchelder, Meg Batchelder, Don Fountain, Julie Littky-Rubin, Ben Whitman
Clark Fountain and the Batchelder family hope that this verdict will change the boating industry and prevent any parent from ever experiencing the horrors associated with losing a child.
Partners Don Fountain, Julie H. Littky-Rubin, Ben J Whitman, and Atlanta Georgia attorneys Drew Ashby and Max Thelen successfully obtained a $200 million verdict for their most deserving clients, Stephan Paul Batchelder and Margaret Mary Batchelder.
For more information, please contact Don Fountain at email@example.com.
July 18, 2022 – Order on Malibu Boats, LLC’s Post-Trial Motions
July 19, 2022 – First Amended Order on Malibu Punitive Damages
Great Trials Podcast Interview Episode 138: Don Fountain and Drew Ashby | Batchelder et al v. Malibu Boats, LLC, f/k/a Malibu Boats, Inc.; Malibu Boats West, Inc. et al. | $200 million verdict
Judge slams boating company found at fault for death of 7-year-old Lake Worth boy
Credit: Ari Hait, WPBF