Judge: MasterCraft can sue driver in design lawsuit

Posted on

MasterCraft Boat Co. can try to get $3.3 million of a jury award back from the driver in a 2006 Lake Oroville boating accident, a judge in Butte County, Calif., ruled this week.

Judge Sandra McLean did not uphold a good faith settlement between driver Jerry Montz and the plaintiffs representing the two women injured on the lake. Under the agreement, Montz would pay $1.1 million — $1 million coming from an insurance policy — and MasterCraft would have to backfill the driver’s $3.3 million portion of economic damages awarded, the Contra Costa Times reported.

MasterCraft can file a lawsuit against Montz for the money, but attorney Tom Nielsen said company representatives have not decided whether they will.

Montz was driving a 24-foot X-45 MasterCraft boat July 9, 2006, on Lake Oroville with 18 other people aboard when the wakeboarder fell. The boat turned and the bow sunk below water, washing Niki Bell and Bethany Mercer, formerly Wallenburg, overboard. The boat’s propeller struck the women.

Mercer suffered injuries to her arm, leg and back. Bell had multiple skull fractures and damage to the frontal lobe of her brain, and she lost her left eye.

A Butte County Superior Court jury found MasterCraft and Montz at fault in the accident and awarded the two injured women more than $30 million on June 7. The verdict was stayed for 60 days so that attorneys could file motions.

The case was scheduled to return to court today on a MasterCraft motion to extend the stay of enforcement of money.

Nielsen told the newspaper he is pleased with the judge’s ruling on the settlement.

“I think it points out some of the issues going on — the cooperation between Montz and the plaintiffs in an attempt to place basically all the responsibility on MasterCraft as a deep pocket,” he said.

Jurors voted 11-1 that MasterCraft was 80 percent at fault and Montz was 20 percent at fault. They awarded $30.9 million in damages to Bell and $530,688 to Mercer.

MasterCraft filed a motion for a new trial, which the court will address in a hearing Aug. 19.

Click here for the full article.


20 comments on “Judge: MasterCraft can sue driver in design lawsuit

  1. Boater

    Very interesting verdict. I still don’t get it. How could MasterCraft be at 80% fault? When you put a boat in reverse and back over someone “why is the boat or engine manufacturer at fault”. I must be missing something here. Can someone help me understand?

  2. Susan

    to Boater:
    It’s very easy to explain. You have high priced trial lawyers who have no obligation to tell the truth, but are instead rewarded for court room theatrics and for bringing in the best paid ‘experts’ they can find. And you have a jury ‘of peers’ who have learned everything they know about the courts system from watching Judge Judy on TV, and are not selected for their intelligence and skeptical nature. Any juror who might have an ounce of knowledge about the equipment involved would be summarily dismissed.

  3. Steveo

    I guess when you design a boat line that plunges into the water bow first, you should take some responsibility. This is not the first time a MasterCraft has taken a nose dive. The difference here is having a boat operator that didn’t engage his brain before putting 18 passengers in a 24′ boat. I would think a 60/40 split would have been a better outcome, 60% MC for the poor engineering.

  4. pissed off

    I will tell you what it is!!!! IT is the Walmart Syndrom!!! I can do whatever I like to a product, I am not responsible for my actions with the product, and I can return the item because the people who manufactured it are responsible!!! So the folks on the jury are “WAL-ALIENS” so they totally agree with taking money from folks who have it (Mastercraft) and giving it to folks who are NOT responsible for their own actions.




  6. XXTC

    18 people in the boat and one in the water wakebooarding = overload!!

    Who would put 18 people on a 24 ft boat to begin with?

    I think it’s hilarious (and very sad) that people are being rewarded for being stupid!!

  7. Prod Liability observer

    Boater- there is a caveat in Product Liability case law regarding ‘inherent danger by design’. This creates the standing for an argument to be made then against any producer/designer of a product with an element whose dangerous potential is obvious to a reasonable person: the spinning prop in these boating cases.

    That said, I can’t help but wonder with 18 people, plus the driver, plus one in the water makes 20. That’s a lot of people for a 24 ft boat, isn’t it? Consequences due to overloading the boat one would think would rest on the driver/captain.

    I don’t know all the facts, which could very well make a difference. For example, it is possible that the boat was within its carrying limits, and that the bow dipping under during a turn was regarded as a design flaw. That could then be the key ‘but for’ trigger that sent those two in the water: but for the bow dipping under the surface during a foreseeable manuver, would the accident have happened? That answer appears to be no.

    Anyway, for us to understand fully what leads the courts to their decisions, we would be well advised to learn of all the facts as presented and not draw conclusions from the short briefings we see published.

  8. John J.

    Talk about JUSTICE being blind!!!!! The skipper Montz has 18 others on board a 24 foot boat. That is 19 people and I’m sure they all had life jackets on, or that those life jackets were readily available -NOT-. With all those people, the helmsman’s view aft would have been totally blocked and he could not have safely put the boat in reverse. The skipper did everything wrong he could have and the boat builder gets hung out to dry. The jury must have come from central Africa and never seen a boat. I’m truly sorry for the two women who were injured, but their anger should be directed to the skipper and so many foolish friends that got on that overcrowded boat.

  9. GPE

    One more reason unemployment stays above 9%. Even companies that are working have to worry about $30M lawsuits to cover STUPID people using your products. It was not mentioned but it’s a good guess that alcohol was probably involved. Why were those companies sued as well?

  10. Sailor5200

    Once again personal responsibility is the victim of the US tort system. There is no understanding this verdict – Only the deep pockets scenario. What a travesty…

  11. ohmboy

    Wake up, people. Mastercraft says on their website that “With room for 18”, this boat was not overloaded. Also, looking at the low bow design of this boat, a heavily front loaded condition will allow for submersion if hitting a wake or wave during a turn.
    The industry continues to hide it’s head in the sand, and is easy picking for aggressive lawyers. We need to stop showing people in advertising in bow seats while a boat is under way. Those seat should only be used while the boat is stationary. And the listed capacity for this boat as 18 people is absurd. Maybe 8, or 10. Not 18.

  12. Practical boater

    19 people in a 24 foot mastercraft, and mastercraft is 80% at fault?
    This country has a totally screwed up legal system.
    What do you think is going to happen when you go 11 people over the weight limit?
    Lets see. roughly 58% overloaded and the attornys have the nerve to take this case. Shoot them!

  13. Eric

    So if i drink a little, then run my friend over with my Ford, can we sue Ford for 80percent? We just blame the tires for not having adequate safety measures and sue Goodyear too.

  14. Philip Topps

    This is a typical illustration of a badly broken “justice” system. The writer who stated that “Any juror who might have an ounce of knowledge about the equipment involved would be summarily dismissed” is exactly correct. MasterCraft 80% at fault? I doubt it. Vessels are required by USCG regulations to have a capacity plate posted where it is VISIBLE to the operator. It is up to the OPERATOR (captain) to observe the load limits stated by the manufacturer. Failing that, I think that the manufacturer is totally without blame. What are they supposed to do, have a company representative on every boat they sell? Rediculous!
    Any moron who puts 20 people in a 24′ boat, is creating a potential for disaster. And, yes, it is of course, california (lower case intentional) where every liberal dream has come true.

  15. styreneblood

    Having been in the certification/compliance side of things for about 10 years, I am increasingly appalled at how many manufacturers use the capacity rating as a sales tool instead of safety as it was intended. Never mind common sense and comfort, either- who cares if you can move about without stepping all over people or upsetting the stability of the craft. We just want that big number on the label! Same thing in Europe with the CE category ratings- had salesmen wanting Cat B on 17-18 footers- “we can’t sell without it”. Go sell someone else’s boat then- people aren’t going to die in mine if I can help it.

  16. jim

    Hey “Boater”, rating a 24′ boat for 18 passengers in a bow rider design is an open invitation to dangerously overload and unbalance a boat. It isn’t California that is at fault. The famous McDonald, hot coffee case didn’t happen in California, nor did many other high profile suits. Unfair California bashers makes Californians glad that those folks don’t live there.

    I feel that the operator should share some of the blame and for that matter, i am sure some of the passengers knew better are partly responsible as well.

  17. Old Salt

    Seems to me that the ratio of fault should have been reversed, 20% (or less) fault of MASTERCRAFT, 80% (or MORE) fault of the Operator.
    Others have stated that the rated capacity of htis 24′ boat was 18 people, the boat was carrying 19 (plus the wakeboarder = 20)…… overloaded, YES, but it is not the number of passengers that was the problem…. but instead the distribution of passengers (ie: where they were sitting). Somewhere I read that moct of the 18 aboard were sitting in the bow, my assumption is that MASTERCRAFT rated the boat for 18 properly distributed (and average size)people, in other words rating assumed that weight would be properly distributed fore and aft, port and starboard, not clustered in the bow. A “competent” skipper would have instructed his/her passengers to sit in a way that would balance the boat…… this is what a builder would base the rating on….to me that indicates that MASTERCRAFT is not 80% AT FAULT, since they have no control over the actions of the operator and passengers. Commonsense should have prevented this tragedy, but foolishness ruled and 2 women were seriously hurt! Then another act of foolishness was committed when this clearcut case of operator negligence was turned around to be a defective boat, and a misinformed jury foolishly blamed the boat’s builder instead of the negligent skipper.
    Even the best designed boat is potentially “unsafe” if the people on board are not properly distributed to balance hte boat, or if the rated number of people (18 in this case) may add up to more than the rated weight capacity.

    Incidently, I am a very vocal critic of modern boat design, and feel that far too many bowriders are designed with too little freeboard forward and not enough volume (bow is often very narrow and thus won’t lift to a sea). HOWEVER, it is still the skipper’s responsibility to prevent those “defects” from becoming dangerous!! The boat isn’t inherently “UNSAFE” as designed, the lack of proper seamanship demonstrated by this “skipper” is what made the boat “unsafe”.
    A SKILLED Skipper can safely operate a poorly-designed boat in conditions that would cause even the best-designed boat to become “unsafe” in the hands of an inexperienced skipper!

    Did MASTERCRAFT build an “unsafe” boat?? NO!! If used as intended and by a competent skipper, this boat would be as safe as it could be.

    A racing go-cart can easily reach “highway” speeds, but that doesn’t make it safe on Route 95!

  18. Philip

    How stupid!!!! The first rule of operating a powerboat, sailboat, super tanker, is the captain has to take responsibility. If he’s dumb enough to put 18 people on a 24 ft boat then he deserves to take 100% of the blame. Wake up lake bound people who call themselves boaters. Its time to grow up.

  19. Mark

    What a complete joke. They should all be ashamed of themselves. I cannot imagine the depth of the pain and hurt of the injured women, however, place the blame where it belongs. The driver of the boat was drinking, the boat was over capacity and any idiot should know not to put everyone in the bow…regardless of the boat! Ever see a pontoon boat with 10 people on it…it sits low regardless of capacity. Put them all in the bow and it goes under…guess we can sue for that too huh?

    Place blame on themselves for not realizing that they were among the group in the bow and perhaps I shouldn’t be here because too many other people already are. Shame on you all for your actions. I hate to wish ill on anyone..but…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.

Vote Today

What's your favorite month on the water?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Login to Trade Only Today

Lost Password