Jet Ski Wrongful Death Jury Verdict (after defendant's $1 settlement offer, a jury unanimously awards $1,250,000)
Our clients lost their son in a tragic jet ski accident on the Colorado River. The driver of the other watercraft refused to accept responsibility for his negligent and reckless actions. His insurance company offered $1 to compensate our clients for their loss.
Here’s there story. Here’s how we were able to help…
If you were to go back in time, you would find our clients looking forward to spending the weekend together at their vacation home in Lake Havasu, Arizona. In fact, there was nothing they enjoyed more than spending time together water skiing, jet skiing on the Colorado river and in the evenings, watching movies late in to the night.
After arriving at the river, our clients’ 16 year old son and his teenage cousin decided to explore the Colorado River on their jet skis and so as they had done so many times in the past, they launched their watercraft and headed up the river. The two boys arrived at a reed lined channel next to the river and entered at a speed of between 5-10 mph. As they approached a sharp left hand turn, another watercraft coming from the opposite direction unexpectedly flew around the corner at a high rate of speed. Before our clients’ son could take evasive action, he was struck and killed.
This tragic and unnecessary death was avoidable and the family struggled about what they should do next. They trusted the local authorities to properly investigate their son’s death but several weeks later were extremely disappointed to learn that the investigation determined that their son was the cause of the collision and, he had a positive blood-alcohol level in his system.
After being advised of this information the family came to us for help. They told us their son did not drink, smoke, or do drugs and at the time of the collision, was an expert jet ski rider. They had talked with witnesses who confirmed the fact that the other watercraft operator caused the collision. Putting two and two together, they felt this local town and local authorities had conspired to “cover up” the true facts of this incident.
We believed our client’s version of the story and immediately filed a wrongful death law suit in the Superior Court of California. The defendant, a 52 year old retired Naval officer and his insurance company used a procedural tool to have the case removed to Federal Court. From a practical standpoint, this made things a bit more challenging for us. Rather than having to convince 9 out of 12 jurors that the defendant was negligent and caused the death of our clients’ son, we now need to obtain a unanimous 8-0 jury verdict in Federal court.
During litigation the defendant’s boat insurance company denied that their insured was the legal cause of our young client’s death and offered the insulting figure of $1 to settle the case. This offer was a “slap in the face” to our clients. We were asked to do everything we could to right this wrong. And so we did.
During the discovery portion of our case, we learned that the Sheriff Department had “supposedly” gotten the blood test mixed up with another person who had nothing to do with our case. Through a bit of hard work and legal effort, we were able to get the Sheriff Department to confirm that at the time of our young client’s death, he did not have any alcohol or drugs in his system. So far so good.
We traveled back and forth from Orange County California to Lake Havasu, Arizona, to investigate the facts, interview witnesses and take depositions. During this process we found two eye witnesses to the collision who told us our clients’ son did nothing wrong and that the defendant was racing his jet ski at an extremely high rate of speed and unsafely tried to maneuver around the blind reed lined corner. From what they saw and hear, the defendant caused this collision.
Now here’s the interesting part. Despite these two independent witnesses, the defendant and his insurance company refused to budge off their earlier $1 settlement offer.
We eventually took this case to trial in Federal Court in Santa Ana, California. Just before trial the defendant’s insurance carrier increased their settlement offer to $20,000. At our recommendation, our clients instructed us to reject the offer and so we did.
During the trial we presented our client’s version of what happened and had the two independent witnesses testify before a jury. The defendant had spent a great deal of money and hired an expert accident reconstruction and helicopter photography team to try and show the jury that the defendant did not cause this collision. For whatever reason, the defendant and his lawyer completely disregarded what our two independent witnesses saw and testified to.
In our opinion, the real problem for the defendant is that their accident reconstruction experts had placed the location of the collision at the wrong location and corner in the reed lined channel. Everything they testified to during trial was based upon testing and measurements taken at a location other than where our clients’ family and the independent witnesses testified the collision took place.
During the trial, the defendant tried to argue that our client’s son assumed the risk of harm while riding his jet ski and that these kinds of things happen. That under the law, the defendant could not be held responsible for the death. We countered with the argument that at no time did our client’s son ever assume that another jet ski rider would be careless and operate his watercraft at an unsafe speed in such a narrow reed lined water channel. To the contrary, our client had a legal right to expect other watercraft operators to conduct themselves just like our client’s son did on the day of the collision– in a safe and lawful fashion. Our jury agreed with us.
In the end, our Federal jury got things right and awarded our client a gross wrongful death verdict of $1,250,000.
What’s important to remember in this case is that the family knew their son had done nothing wrong and they gave us all the time we needed during the litigation process to prove our case. They didn’t rush us or make unreasonable demands. They told us to do what we thought needed to be done to maximize their chances of success. And that’s what we did.
Looking back, it took a great deal of effort and resources to get this verdict for our clients. But it didn’t feel like work. When you believe in the people you are representing and, are seeking justice on their behalf, it’s simply a pleasure to have the opportunity to help.
If you have a personal injury or wrongful death question that you would like answered, then by all means, please give us a call. We’ve been helping victims of personal injury and wrongful death since 1986 and chances are, we can help you too!