Federal District Court in South Carolina Grants Summary Judgment to Defendants in WaveRunner Product Liability Lawsuit – Hickerson v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.

personal watercraftWhen a particular product is unreasonably dangerous or defective, a person who is injured thereby has a legal right to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, wholesaler, seller, or others in the product’s chain of distribution. Possible damages in such a lawsuit include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.

Common legal theories in product liability lawsuits include strict product liability, negligence, design defects, manufacturing defects, marketing defects (such as failure to warn), and breach of warranty. In response to a product liability claim, a defendant may assert various defenses, including a plaintiff’s alleged alteration of the product or misuse of the product.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Hickerson v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., the plaintiff was a woman who filed a product liability lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, seeking compensation from the defendants, which allegedly designed or manufactured a Yamaha VXS WaveRunner personal watercraft. As grounds for relief, the plaintiff stated that she was seriously injured after falling off the back of the watercraft and into the jet stream. She further averred that the defendants were liable for her injuries, based on strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.

After granting (in part) the defendants’ motion in limine to exclude certain expert testimony proffered by the plaintiff in support of her claims, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff then filed a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), seeking to alter or amend the court’s previous order.

The Federal District Court’s Holding on the Motion

The court denied the plaintiff’s motion to alter or amend its previous grant of summary judgment to the defendants. Although the plaintiff claimed that she was on the back of the watercraft behind other riders and did not see any warnings, the court noted that there were warnings on the watercraft to the effect that, without protective clothing such as a wet suit, a rider could be injured if he or she fell into the water or if the jet thrust nozzle forced water into a rider’s body cavities. Although the plaintiff anticipated that her expert witness would opine that the warnings on the device should be shorter, be moved to the rear of the seat, and include a certain graphic, the trial court had previously deemed the expert’s opinion unreliable under the requirements set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow. Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

Since the plaintiff had failed to adduce sufficient evidence that the warnings were inadequate or that the warnings’ purported inadequacy was the cause of her injury, the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s negligence and strict liability claims based on the watercraft’s allegedly inadequate warnings. With regard to the plaintiff’s claims of negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty based on the watercraft’s allegedly defective design, the court pointed out that, under South Carolina law, it was compelled to grant summary judgment on these claims after determining that the product warnings were adequate as a matter of law.

Hurt by a Bad Product?

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a dangerous or defective product, you should talk to a lawyer about filing a product liability lawsuit. The knowledgeable South Carolina product liability attorneys at the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices can advise you as to whether you may have a claim against the maker of a bad product. To schedule a free consultation in Spartanburg or Greenville, call us at (864) 582-5118. You should not delay in seeking legal advice about your claim, since there are both statutes of limitations and statutes of repose that can render your claim time-barred if you do not act within the time allowed by the law.

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