The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week affirmed a decision handed down last year by a jury that Brunswick Corp. was partially liable for a 2005 accident on Lake Austin, Texas, in which a teen’s leg was severed by a propeller.
The court’s decision, filed May 27, was unanimous.
Jacob Brochtrup brought the case against Mercury Marine and Sea Ray. He was 18 at the time of the accident.
On the day of the accident, Brochtrup and three others were in a 17.6-foot Sea Ray, powered by a 135-hp MerCruiser sterndrive. When one of the tow ropes unhooked and fell into the water, Brochtrup jumped in behind the boat to retrieve it, according to court documents.
The driver put the boat in reverse to stop its forward motion and backed over Brochtrup. The propeller shredded his right leg, which was ultimately amputated at the hip joint.
According to the original suit, the manufacturer of the boat and motor did not have safety devices, including guards or covers, to prevent Brochtrup from becoming entangled or stuck.
The case proceeded to trial three times, with the first two juries unable to reach a verdict. The third jury concluded that there was a design defect and awarded damages to Brochtrup.
Jurors ordered the company to pay $3.8 million in medical expenses and damages, finding that Brunswick shared more than half the blame for the accident. Jurors found that Brochtrup also was responsible, as was the driver of the boat.
The appeals court decision includes upholding the jury finding that an unguarded propeller was “unreasonably dangerous and defectively designed.” That jury finding necessarily included determining that a guard would prevent the injury and would not adversely affect the use of the boat or engine, Brochtrup’s lawyer Robby Alden said.
“The parties collectively spent over a million dollars testing the guard, and the jury heard substantial evidence from all experts,” Alden said in an e-mail to Soundings Trade Only. “Believe me, guards work and save lives.”
Brunswick did not immediately return a request for comment.
After last year’s verdict, Brunswick issued a statement saying they “stand behind our products, which are used safely and properly by boaters around the world.”
“While we at Brunswick remain sympathetic to the plaintiff for this unfortunate accident, we are nevertheless disappointed with today's verdict," Brunswick officials added last year.