Jet Ski Settlements and Verdicts.. and an Awful Case in Georgia

This was a years-old post about an awful — just absolutely awful — product liability case involving a jet ski.   But it is 2020 and people will not care about that case like they did when it was news.  So I converted the post to the settlement value of jet ski injuries.  Our first has handled a number of maritime death cases and we have a sense of how these case work.

Here are some results in jet ski cases we have found in other jurisdictions around the country.

Jet Ski Verdicts and Settlements

  • 2022, California: $5,000,000 Verdict. The decedent, a male in his late 50s, died as a result of a jet ski accident. The decedent was a passenger on the back of a rented 2021 Yamaha WaveRunner jet ski. Another man riding a jet ski behind him attempted to stop but could not and ended up running into the decedent’s jet ski from behind. The wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the jet ski was defective because it lacked a braking mechanism and that the other jet ski driver was negligent. The jury found that the jet ski rental company was 75% at fault, and the other driver was 25% at fault.
  • 2021, Washinton: $457,738 Verdict. The plaintiff was riding a jet ski when he was struck from the rear by another jetski operated by the defendant. The plaintiff suffered a major degloving injury to the left side of his buttocks, a pelvic fracture of the left iliac wing, which required surgery, a rib fracture and multiple soft tissue injuries. The defendant denied liability and claimed that the plaintiff was at-fault.
  • 2020, Nevada: $100,000 Settlement. A minor passenger suffered unspecified injuries after her jet ski was struck by another. Her mother sued the parents of the other jet ski’s operator, a minor boy, and the jet ski rental company for negligent entrustment. She alleged that the boy’s failure to safely operate his jet ski caused her daughter’s injuries. This case settled for $100,000.
  • 2018, Texas: $148,448 Verdict. A woman was riding on a water tube that was being pulled by a jet ski. Another jet ski traveled into their path and struck her. The woman suffered unspecified personal injuries. She sued both jet ski drivers, alleging that they both failed to slow down, improperly controlled their vehicles, and caused her injuries. Both drivers contested the negligence claims. They each argued that the other was more liable for the incident. The jury found that the tortfeasor was 90 percent liable, while the woman’s jet ski driver was 10 percent liable. They awarded a $148,448 verdict.
  • 2016, Delaware: $510,000 Verdict. A man suffered a herniated disc, a torn right meniscus, and muscle aches after an intoxicated jet ski driver struck him while he was standing in shallow waters. He underwent surgical procedures to treat his disc herniation and meniscus tear. The man sued the jet ski driver for negligence. His wife also made a loss of consortium claim. The man alleged that the driver operated the vehicle while intoxicated, failed to regard the safety of others, and excessively sped. The jet ski driver admitted liability but disputed the extent of the man’s injuries. A jury ruled in favor of the couple and awarded a $510,000 verdict. This included $250,000 in the loss of consortium claim.
  • 2016, New Jersey: $300,000 Settlement. A minor passenger was thrown off a jet ski that was struck by another jet ski. He suffered unspecified severe and permanent injuries. His father sued both jet ski drivers. He alleged that the non-tortfeasor negligently entrusted a jet ski to the tortfeasor, despite knowing that he failed to complete a boat safety course. The boy’s father also alleged that they improperly controlled and maintained their respective jet skis. This case settled for $300,000.
  • 2016, California: $1,350,000 Verdict. A man was riding his repaired jet ski in a lake. His brother-in-law was his passenger. A boat followed the two. The man attempted to speed up his jet ski once they reached the buoys. However, the engine died during this attempt. Shortly after, the boat struck the jet ski. The man suffered a severe pelvic injury, while his brother-in-law suffered blunt force trauma and died at the scene. He sued the shop that repaired his jet ski. The man alleged that they left some water in the gas tank, causing the vehicle to malfunction. He also sued the boat’s driver, alleging that he failed to safely operate his boat and violated boating safety regulations. The shop denied liability, arguing that only the boat driver’s negligence caused the collision. A jury awarded a $1,350,000 verdict.

Jet Ski Accident Lawsuits

Jet ski lawsuits generally involve legal disputes arising from accidents or injuries associated with the use of personal watercraft, like jet skis. These lawsuits can stem from a variety of situations, including collisions, reckless operation, manufacturing defects, and failure to provide appropriate safety instructions or equipment. Here are a few key points to understand the types of jet ski lawsuits lawyers file:

  • Negligence: Many jet ski accidents occur due to negligence, which could be on the part of the jet ski operator, another vessel operator, or the rental company that provided the jet ski.  Too often, the rental companies – who have insurance to pay settlement amounts –  send people out that have been drinking or are in water that is too choppy for safe travel for a beginner.  For example, if a jet ski operator is speeding in a crowded area and causes an accident, they could be held liable for any injuries or damages that result. Rental companies can be held liable for jet ski accidents if they fail to provide proper safety equipment, do not maintain their jet skis properly, or do not provide adequate safety instructions to renters.
  • Product Liability: If a jet ski accident is caused by a manufacturing or design defect in the jet ski itself, a product liability claim could be filed against the manufacturer. These cases typically require proof that the jet ski was being used as intended and that the defect directly led to the accident or injury. These cases are brought but less frequently than negligence claims because they are much harder to prove.
  • Wrongful Death: In the unfortunate event that a jet ski accident results in a fatality, the victim’s family might choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party or parties they believe to be responsible. This could include the operator of another vessel, the manufacturer of the jet ski, or the rental company that provided the jet ski.

In any of these situations, a successful jet ski lawsuit could result in compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Potential Defendants in a Jet Ski Accident Case

Most jet ski accidents are caused by the negligent operation of a boat or another jet ski. In this situation, the primary defendant is always going to be the person who operated that other watercraft. We also see a lot of jet ski injury cases, however, in which the company that rented the jet ski is named as a defendant. Rental companies can be held liable based on various negligence theories. The most common theories of liability against rental companies are: failure to maintain the jet ski in a safe condition, failure to provide proper safety instructions, or some type of premises liability theory.

The Original Case

Now to the original case which is still an awful, yet interesting case with important legal issues. The 11th Circuit affirmed a $1.5 million product liability judgment to a Georgia woman whose vaginal and anal cavities were tragically gutted by water shooting from the back of a jet ski.

How could this have happened? A 21-year-old woman is doing what many of us have done, riding a jet ski on vacation in the Bahamas. She is a passenger. Her friend hits the gas, this young woman was not holding on or expecting it, and she falls off the back. This happens all the time on jet skis. But water thrusts from the nozzle in the back of the jet ski and tears through her vaginal and anal cavities. Just awful. She gets 19 medical procedures and surgeries, and likely will have to wear a colostomy bag and self-catheterize for the rest of her life, absent some new medical breakthrough that we all hope comes.

Her lawyers file a lawsuit against Kawasaki in federal court in Florida, but the case gets transferred to Georgia where the woman was going to college. Her attorneys find a good expert who holds a patent for a rotatable seat that could have been used. Kawasaki files a motion in limine to exclude the expert on the ground that his opinion was unreliable because he had not done enough testing on his proposed seatback design. The Georgia judge disagrees and lets the jury hear the expert’s testimony. The court does, however, grant Kawasaki’s motions relating to the expert’s other reasonable alternative designs, such as an engine cut-off switch and fixed handles.

The jury finds for the plaintiff on the design defect claim and in favor of Kawasaki on the failure-to-warn claim, awarding, incredibly to me, $3 million for past and future medical expenses but nothing – nothing? – for pain and suffering. The jury also finds the plaintiff half responsible for her damages, cutting her award in half.

It sounds like a win for Kawasaki if you ask me. They appeal anyway, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in letting the expert testify. The 11th Circuit disagreed, finding that the trial court’s call was not unreasonable.

Plaintiff appealed too on the zero damages for pain and suffering award, arguing that it is just plain illogical. I can’t believe the court would have sustained this appeal anyway, but they had an easy out: under Georgia law, inconsistent verdicts must be objected to before the jury is released.

I think Kawasaki has to be feeling pretty good about this verdict. This woman’s life is destroyed, she has $3 million in past and future medical expenses Kawasaki walks away with a $1.5 million verdict.

Scares me now, I have taken my kids on these things.  Humans are just stupid, I guess because I will again one day.

Contact Us About a Jet Ski Accident Case

If you have been injured in a jet ski accident, contact our personal injury lawyers today at 800-553-8082 for a free consultation.




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