Pontoon Boat Injuries: What is your pinkie worth today?
Gainesville Injury Lawyer
Boat Accident Attorney
As a booat accident attorney, I’ve blogged before about the defective gate assembly on pontoon boats manufactured between 2000 and 2005. For those of you who are not aware, the gate assembly on these boats has a hidden defect in the form of a “pinch point” in the gate assembly which tears the fingers of of users of the boat who enter jump from the deck of the boat into the water. The earlier models had no safeguard, as shown here:
The later models were equipped with a “ball guard” that did not fix the defect, as illustrated here:
I have been involved in approximately 10 claims arising from the use of Bentley’s pontoon boats and all involved the traumatic amputation of at least one-finger due to the defective gate assembly and ineffective ball guard remediation. The mechanics of the injury (ies) are in essence identical in each claim: The user, without knowledge of the hidden defect, enters the water from the deck of the pontoon boat, their finger naturally trailing the contours of the gate assembly. If the user is facing outward, the right-pinkie (and possibly right ring finger) become trapped in the pinch point and are yanked from the users had by the users body weight; if the user is facing inward (i.e., back to the water), the left-hand suffers the damage. And, because the amputation results from an avulsion, which is when the fingers are “pulled” or “ripped” from the hand (rather than sliced), the digits cannot be successfully re-attached.
The issue now facing persons injured from this hidden defect is not liability, the product has been demonstrated to be dangerous, but coverage. Specifically, the companies that manufactured this defective product, such as Bentley, sought bankruptcy protection and/or re-organized to escape liability for these claims. Similarly, we recently litigated a claim and named for the first-time the manufacturer of the ineffective ball guard. This too was ineffective because the manufacturer purchased the assets of a defunct New Jersey corporation in 2007, which was after the ball guard was manufactured and sold. Therefore, the current holder of the patent is not liable under the laws of most states.
Thus, the reality for users who lose a pinkie due to this defect (sometimes a ring finger too), is that the sellers of the boat are often the only viable defendant. (Lessors who rent the boat may also be liable). In strict liability jurisdictions, such as Florida and South Carolina, Sellers are “strictly liable” for injuries arising from the sale of a defective product. However, in many jurisdictions, the injured boater may be required to sue the Seller under a “negligence” theory, which is more difficult. Injured users can also bring claims against Sellers under a theory of implied warranty.
The upshot of this post, however, is that if you suffer a pinkie amputation due to this defect, it is imperative that you obtain information about the boat, including where it was sold, and seek legal advice because your remedies will vary from state to state and you may also be facing a statute of limitations issue which will bar your claim.