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Judge: MasterCraft can sue driver in design lawsuit

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.

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