Colombo v. BRP US, Inc., an appeal from the California Court of Appeal, involved plaintiffs who went jet skiing. The group consisted of two sisters who went to help a third sister move into a new apartment. The sister who was moving had a boyfriend whose roommate operated personal watercraft for a local company.
Boyfriend wanted to reward the two sisters for helping his girlfriend move and arranged to meet them at a store and then take them to ride the personal watercraft (PWCs). He loaded two PWCs onto a trailer, met them at the store, and took them to the bay to ride. Both sisters wore two-piece bathing suits. Nobody in the group was wearing a wetsuit.
After putting on a life vest, plaintiffs waded into the water and met defendant. Both plaintiffs got on the back of PWC with defendant sitting in the operator’s seat. He did not give them any instructions. Plaintiff testified that she had no intention of driving the PWC herself and did not have any idea how PWCs worked and how fast water exited the jet-thrust nozzle underneath. She also did not see any labels under the handlebars or on the console that warned of severe injury that could occur as a result of falling into the water near the nozzles.
As our Boston personal injury lawyers can explain, many amusement rides and attractions contain long warnings and releases of liability that participants have no opportunity to read or understand before engaging in an activity.
One of the warning labels on PWCs stated that all riders must wear a wetsuit bottom and that normal swimwear does not provide adequate protections for the “lower body opening(s) of males or females.”
At one point during the ride, defendant made a sharp turn, causing both plaintiffs to be thrown from PWC. One plaintiff felt a stabbing pain in her rectum. She put her hand in bathing suit and pulled out a “ball of flesh.” The other plaintiff seriously injured her vagina. Both plaintiffs had surgery to repair the serious personal injury, and one had to wear a colostomy bag during her senior year of high school.
At trial, defendant tried to claim that, since this case occurred in navigable waterways, admiralty law limited his liability to the approximate $6,000 cost of a PWC. The court ultimately found defendant knew or should have known passenger could fall off a PWC and could not read the warnings. His negligence in not having operators require passengers to wear wetsuit bottoms was actionable and would also allow for a jury to award punitive damages.
In this case, the jury, after hearing testimony of both plaintiffs and examining all other evidence, awarded plaintiffs over $4 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages were for pain and suffering, of which there was a lot, past and future medical expense, and special damages.
Defendant appealed to the state court of appeals and the court affirmed trial court’s ruling and the jury award of punitive damages.
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Colombo v. BRP US, Inc., October 30 2014, California Court of Appeal
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Wilkins v. City of Haverhill – Massachusetts Supreme Court Weighs Slip-and-Fall Claim, May 23, 2014, Boston Personal Injury Attorney Blog