Skip to main content

Jury rules against MasterCraft in design lawsuit

A jury in Butte County, Calif., found Tuesday that MasterCraft was 80 percent to blame for injuries a woman suffered in a wakeboarding accident five years ago on Lake Oroville and awarded her $30 million.

Lawyers for Niki Bell, 27, alleged that the MasterCraft X45 has a design flaw that caused the front end of the boat to partially submerge during a low-speed turn and dump Bell and another woman into the water, the Sacramento Bee newspaper reported.

“They made the bow huge — it was a Frankenstein's monster,” said Roger Dreyer, Bell's Sacramento lawyer. “They took two existing boats and combined them, but never engineered it. They made it very large so a lot of people could be in it. If it dips, the water pours in and that's what happened.”

MasterCraft lawyer Thomas Dale Nielsen said the accident was the first for the boat, which is sold nationwide. He said MasterCraft ”will consider its appellate options” in assessing the verdict.

“Obviously, we are very disappointed in the outcome,” Nielsen told the newspaper. “We believe the evidence established that the MasterCraft X45 did not cause this accident and that while MasterCraft has great compassion for both Ms. Bell and [co-plaintiff] Ms. [Bethany] Wallenburg due to their serious injuries, we continue to believe that the accident was caused by an impaired, reckless driver.”

Wallenburg received a $500,000 award in Tuesday's verdict.

Along with the 80 percent of responsibility the jury assigned to MasterCraft, it also found boat operator Jerry Montz, now 33, liable for 20 percent of the damages suffered by Bell and Wallenburg.

According to evidence at the trial, Montz was drinking at the time of the accident and registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 percent. He was arrested after the July 9, 2006 accident and later pleaded no contest to negligent operation of a watercraft, according to his lawyer.

The two women were washed into the lake as the boat made a 3- to 5-mph turn to retrieve a fallen wakeboarder it was towing, according to evidence at the trial.

As the boat continued its turn, the propeller slashed Wallenburg across the back and it struck Bell in the head, fracturing her skull, slicing through her frontal lobe and ripping out her left eye.

Plaintiffs' lawyers argued that a design flaw caused the boat to dip into the water — an excessively big bow that allowed too many people to get into the front as well as seepage through a forward anchor slot. The defense said Montz allowed too many people on board — 19 — in a craft rated for 18. Moreover, Nielsen said, Montz allowed 12 passengers to sit in the bow.

Click here for the full article.


Volvo Penta to Power Offshore Wind Farm Transfer Vessels

The Swedish company will provide quad IPS systems for crew-and-equipment transfer vessels being built by American Offshore Services.

ePropulsion Secures B+ Series Funding

The China-based company will use the investment — equal to tens of millions of U.S. dollars — to advance research and development in e-power technology innovations.

Discover Boating Moves Forward

The joint NMMA and MRAA effort reveals a new logo and its rebranding of the Miami International Boat Show.

The Outdoor Recreation Boom Continues

Bombardier Recreational Products saw revenue jump 28 percent to $4.2 billion for the year, but dipping in its fiscal Q3 due to supply chain constraints.

A Steady Decline

Demand remains strong, but supply-chain logjams continue to weaken boat registration numbers.

Heimensen Named MarineMax Marketing VP

The yacht retailer announced it has promoted its longtime marketing director Abbey Heimensen.

C.G. Foundation Launches GivingTuesday Matching Challenge

The Coast Guard Foundation is launching a matching gift in which Geico Military will triple all donations received by midnight tonight.

Argo App Experiences Growth

Over a two-year period, the navigation and social boating app has expanded its on-the-water community to 50,000 boaters, with functionality upgrades planned in the future.