Colombo v. BRP US – Personal Watercraft Injury Verdict Upheld


Personal watercraft are big in Florida. Sometimes referred to by their brand names (commonly, Jet Skis, WaveRunners and Sea-Doos), these products are not inherently safe.

In fact, the U.S. Coast Guard reported in 2012 that personal watercraft accidents accounted for nearly 20 percent of the 4,515 boating accidents that year, resulting in more than 720 injuries and 58 deaths. There are dozens of brands of these crafts, and it’s estimated Americans own approximately 1.3 million. Florida has an especially high ownership rate, and that doesn’t even account for the commercial rental companies that routinely offer use of the craft to tourists – many of whom have little to no experience on these devices and may not understand the risks.

In addition to the obvious collision hazards posed by these devices, there is a lesser-known but equally dangerous aspect associated with personal watercraft: orifice injuries. It’s as unpleasant as it sounds, and has the potential to result in serious injury, permanent disability and even death. It can occur when a rider falls off the back and lands directly in the path of the craft’s high-pressure jet stream. Those wearing regular bathing suits, as opposed to wet suits, are at greater risk of injury.

Our Fort Myers watercraft accident lawyers understand this was the scenario in the recent case of Colombo v. BRP US, Inc., before the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One. Although this is an out-of-state case, the same basic legal principles of negligence still apply.

According to court records, the case stems from orifice injuries suffered by two teenage girls who accepted a ride on a Sea-Doo from the roommate of a sister’s boyfriend. The roommate happened to work at a store that sold the watercraft, and the craft was owned by the store and manufactured by a company called Bombardier Recreational Products Inc.

The girls say they were never told there was a risk of orifice injury if they weren’t wearing a wet suit (both donned two-piece bathing suits) and they did not see a printed warning on the craft, underneath the handlebars, as they were not operating the vehicle.

Both fell off the back (they assert the driver tossed them intentionally) and were caught in the powerful jet stream, which delivered about 800 pounds of force. They described the pain as akin to suffering a deep stab wound. One suffered severe rectal damage and the other damage to her vagina. In addition to enduring enormous pain and suffering, the girls had to undergo surgery and continue to suffer ill effects even years later. One had to wear a colostomy bag for months and still has difficulty controlling bodily release functions. The other was told if she is ever able to have children, she will have to give birth via cesarean section.

The girls and their parents sued the operator/store employee, the store (as owner of the vehicle) and the manufacturer of the device.

A jury returned a verdict in their favor, apportioning each defendant one-third of the fault. Punitive damages were also awarded.

Manufacturer appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to prove its warning of orifice injury was inadequate. The appellate court, in its affirmation of the verdict, noted expert witness testimony indicating it would have been inexpensive for manufacturer to affix a warning on the side or rear of the craft so riders could easily read and view it.

Further, the court upheld the award of punitive damages, finding the evidence supported a finding of reckless conduct and/or gross negligence.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Colombo v. BRP US, Inc., Oct. 30, 2014, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One

More Blog Entries:

Celebrity Cruises v. Fernandes – $2.5M Injury Verdict Reversed, Case Remanded, Nov. 11, 2014, Fort Myers Watercraft Injury Lawyer Blog