In October 2022, a teen who was badly injured in a boating wreck two years prior, was awarded a $3,148,000 settlement for her physical and emotional trauma.
One week before the plaintiff was scheduled to begin her freshman year of college, she was tubing behind a 25-foot Grady While pleasure boat, when the tube crashed into a dock causing significant injury.
The operator of the boat was the boat owners’ son, who was pulling a tube behind the boat with three 18-year-olds sitting inside the well of the tube.
The plaintiff was positioned on the starboard (righthand) side of the tube as the boat operator made a turn to port (left hand), causing the tube to swing out beyond the wake and strike a dock piling on the side of the river. It was alleged that the vessel operator had been drinking alcohol before the incident and was impaired, but not impaired enough for it to be visible to the other passengers on the boat and the tube. There also was evidence that other passengers, including plaintiff, had been consuming some alcoholic beverages but none were impaired.
The plaintiff’s body slammed into the wooden dock piling in the crash. After the impact, she was thrown from the tube, lying face down in the water, and was pulled onto the same dock she struck by passengers in the boat who jumped into the water to aid her. She was in severe pain and had to be transported to the hospital for emergency treatment.
The crash caused plaintiff to suffer five pelvic fractures, a separation of the pubis symphysis, and a femur fracture, as well as other, more minor injuries. She underwent emergency orthopedic surgery. The rear of her pelvis and the sacrum were stabilized with a pin through both sacroiliac joints, a plate and screws were used to stabilize the pubis symphysis. She was hospitalized for five days and underwent three months of initial physical therapy progressing from a wheelchair to a walker to crutches.
Her total medical bills at the time of the settlement were $139,088.26.
She was able to recover and regained the ability to walk without assistance, although her treating physicians testified that she would more likely than not have some form of permanent injury and impairment because of the boat crash.
“While the Plaintiff appeared physically normal, testimony from her highly credentialed treating rehabilitation physician would have established that Plaintiff had five different permanent injuries,” Plaintiff attorney Robert Zaytoun said.
The Plaintiff also experienced emotional harms including post-traumatic stress disorder from the crash and emotional distress from not being able to start college as scheduled with her classmates.
She began college one semester later and excelled academically. She also held a part time job and participated in an honors program and extracurricular activities related to her major.
There were no issues of alcohol impairment related to the parental owners of the vessel, and they were not on board at the time of the crash. In opposition to the limitation action filed by the vessel owners, plaintiff alleged, and the defendants denied, that the vessel operator had previously engaged in prior reckless boating activities and other reckless behavior. Plaintiff also alleged that the owners of the vessel should have known of the operator’s propensity for reckless operation of the vessel.
The vessel owners and their son, the vessel operator, who were represented by maritime defense attorneys, denied any liability for plaintiff’s claims, and contested the permanency and seriousness of plaintiff’s injuries. The defense had boating-related expert witnesses to testify about liability issues, as well as medical experts who questioned the diagnoses and opinions of plaintiff’s treating medical providers.
The defense argued that plaintiff had made a full or near full recovery, usually walked without limping, looked healthy, and was able to resume normal life activities. The defense also obtained surveillance video and social media evidence showing the plaintiff walking normally and dancing, which they argued suggested that her injuries had completely resolved.
Plaintiff relied on her health care providers for evidence of injury and permanency.
“A challenge we faced in this case was that our client looked normal and recent videos of her made it seem that she was fine,” Zaytoun said. “However, the truth is that she was in physical pain every day and she was still dealing with the emotional fallout from this crash and her PTSD. We were prepared to present treating physician testimony about the true nature of our client’s injuries. We also engaged an accident reconstruction expert to create a very helpful series of animations to let everyone see what happened in the crash and testify about how forceful this impact really was. The expert was able to calculate that the force of the impact was the equivalent of a fall from a 5-story building, with the force concentrated on Plaintiff’s right hip.”
Plaintiff attorneys John Green and John Taylor also noted that they had to deal with the challenging fact that their client had been drinking alcohol on the day of the collision and the defense arguing that she was negligent.
“We argued that our client’s drinking was not a proximate cause of boat crash, and she never thought that the operator was impaired or that he was unable to safely drive the boat,” Green said. “There was no steering wheel on that tube, and she was completely in the hands of the boat operator when the tube was rushing towards the dock. It was a very scary experience that she had no control over.”
Is this a verdict or a settlement? Settlement
Type of case: Admiralty, boating injury case
Injuries alleged: Pelvic fractures and post-traumatic stress disorder
Case name: Confidential
Case No.: Confidential
Date of settlement: October 6, 2022
Most helpful experts: Confidential
Insurance carrier: Confidential
Attorney(s) for Plaintiff and their firm(s): Robert E. Zaytoun and John R. Taylor of Zaytoun Ballew & Taylor, PLLC. John Green and Alex Hall of Hall & Green, LLP.
Attorney(s) for defendant and their firm(s): Confidential
Was the opposing represented by counsel? Yes
Were liability and/or damages contested? Yes, all aspects of both liability and damages were contested.
Has the judgment been successfully collected? Yes, all settlement amounts have been collected.