MasterCraft will appeal ruling in design lawsuit

Published online: Aug 23, 2011 News Trade Only Today
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A Superior Court judge in Butte County, Calif., last week rejected MasterCraft's request for a new trial in a 2006 accident that left two people injured, but the boatbuilder said it will appeal the decision.

John Dorton, president and CEO of MasterCraft, told Soundings Trade Only this morning that he was "disappointed, but not surprised" by Judge Sandra McLean's decision, adding that "the appeals process continues."

A jury ruled in June that MasterCraft was 80 percent at fault in the July 9, 2006, accident in which Niki Bell and Bethany Mercer, formerly Wallenburg, were swept off a MasterCraft X-45 wakeboarding boat and struck by its propeller. Jurors found that boat driver Jerry Montz was 20 percent at fault. Montz admitted to drinking alcohol on the day of the accident, and there were more passengers on the boat than the manufacturer recommended.

The jury awarded $30.9 million in damages to Bell and $530,688 to Mercer.

"We remain committed to the X-45 being a great, safe boat. It's got a tremendous safety record. It's fully complaint with NMMA, ABYC and the U.S. Coast Guard," Dorton said. "We hope the system will send a clear message to consumers that it's not OK to boat under the influence of drugs and alcohol and it's not OK to disregard warning labels and safe boating laws."

Dorton also said the company has heard of no other safety problems with the X-45 and has been encouraged by an outpouring of support from the industry and boaters.

"They see this as a case of as someone trying to go after what's perceived as deep pockets. No one in the marine industry has deep pockets anymore," he said. "I think any reasonable boater understands that this is a ridiculous verdict."

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