By John W. Scanlan, J.D.
A family that sustained injuries when their personal watercraft (PWC) exploded brought claims for negligence, design and manufacturing defect, and failure to warn against the manufacturer and seller, alleging that the PWC was defective in that it lacked adequate safety devices and adequate warnings about various risks associated with its use (Ruddy v. Polaris Industries, Inc., March 7, 2016).
A seven-year old boy and his mother were sitting on a Polaris Model 2002 Virage i PWC that exploded when she attempted to start it while it was at the dock. Both allegedly were thrown from the PWC. The child sustained skull fractures and brain injuries, and continues to experience pain, cognitive issues, and memory loss, while the mother sustained a broken back and other injuries; both have injuries that the complaint states are ongoing and may be permanent. The child’s parents brought suit in a federal district court in Pennsylvania against Polaris Industries, Inc. and Polaris Sales, Inc.
General allegations. According to the complaint, the watercraft did not have adequate safety devices, design elements, or controls that would have prevented the accident. Furthermore, it lacked adequate warnings and instructions about the dangers of gasoline, gasoline vapors, and sparks in the hull. The complaint alleged that Polaris knew or should have known that: (1) there was a defect in the fuel pump retaining nut threads that would allow fuel into the engine compartment; (2) the fuel line hoses shrink, loosen from their connections, chafe, and tear, also allowing fuel into the engine compartment; (3) the fuel line hoses have insecure connections and dislodge from the fuel tank, permitting fuel leakage into the hull; and (4) plastic nipples from the gas line supply/return line and vent line from the fuel pump head are frail and brittle, and break, permitting fuel leakage into the hull. These leaks into the engine compartment and hull would cause a fire or explosion. The family asserted that they used the watercraft as intended and did not misuse it in any way.
Causes of action. The family brought claims for negligence, strict liability, gross negligence, breach of warranty, loss of consortium, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Relief sought. The family sought compensatory damages in excess of $150,000 on each of the six causes of action in their complaint, along with interest, costs, and any other damages deemed proper. The family asserted that they had incurred in the past and will incur in the future substantial medical and medical related expenses, expenses for various kinds of therapy, loss of earnings and earnings capacity, and other losses as a result of their injuries. They also asked for punitive damages, asserting that Polaris had actual and subjective awareness of the dangers of the watercraft, but willfully and/or recklessly disregarded them in continuing to manufacture and sell the watercraft, failing to recall, repair, or modify them, and failing to warn consumers of their dangers. The complaint includes a demand for a jury trial.
The case is No. 3:17-cv-00423-UN2.
Attorneys: Matthew A. Casey (Ross Feller Casey, LLP) for Eugene Ruddy.
Companies: Polaris Industries, Inc.; Polaris Sales, Inc.
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