October 28, 2010
Today Judge Eugene Doherty approved a confidential settlement between the family of a 9-year-old girl killed when an out-of-control Sea-Doo personal watercraft crashed into her while she was being pulled behind a speed boat in a tube, and Bombardier, Inc., the company that designed and manufactured the Sea-Doo. This settlement ends a lawsuit that was tried and appealed, and was about to be tried for a second time. As a result of the settlement the family has not only gained money; they also obtained the first public court finding that the steering design of a Sea-Doo personal watercraft was unreasonably dangerous when it left the manufacturer’s control.
On May 25, 2007, following a two-week wrongful death trial, a 12-member Rockford, Illinois, jury returned a record-setting $2 million verdict in favor of the parents and sister of a 9-year-old girl whose wrongful death was caused in a collision with a 1994 Bombardier Sea-Doo personal watercraft. During the trial, attorneys at Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. who represented the estate of the child who was killed, proved to the jury’s satisfaction that both the operator and the manufacturer of the Sea-Doo were at fault. The jury found the operator was 95 percent at fault and assigned the other 5 percent of blame to Bombardier.
Despite the jury’s finding in their favor and against Bombardier, the plaintiffs appealed, arguing the trial judge had made a number of erroneous evidentiary rulings in favor of Bombardier. The plaintiffs argued that if the judge had ruled correctly, the jury probably would have assigned more than 5 percent of the blame to Bombardier. Under the law if 25 percent or more of the fault is assigned to Bombardier, then they would be liable for the entire $2 million verdict. Below 25 percent, Bombardier is liable only for their proportion of the fault.
On January 23, 2009, The Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District, issued a decisive ruling agreeing with the plaintiffs, and ordering a new trial on the issue of allocation of fault only. If the case had not settled, at the new trial the jury would have been instructed that Bombardier and the operator of the personal watercraft are together 100 percent at fault for the collision, and that its only job would have been to determine the percentage of the blame attributable to each. When making this determination, the jury in the second trial would not have seen or heard much of the evidence that Bombardier relied on in the first trial because the Appellate Court ruled much of this evidence never should have been allowed at the first trial. The $2 million damages award, which is the highest child wrongful death verdict ever in Winnebago County according to records maintained by the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter, remains valid and will not be retried.
Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. is a personal injury law firm based in Chicago, Illinois. The personal injury attorneys at Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. have achieved multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements for individuals with lawsuits arising from medical malpractice, product liability, semitruck and motor vehicle accidents, workplace injuries and construction accidents in Illinois and Wisconsin. Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C.’s premier aviation negligence lawyers represent victims of commercial and general aviation disasters nationwide.
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