RABUN COUNTY, Ga. — The family of a 7-year-old boy killed in a Georgia boating accident in 2014 has been awarded $200 million by a grand jury.
Ryan Paul Batchelder was tragically killed in 2014 on Lake Burton in Rabun County.
The boy’s family rented a 2000 Malibu Response LX open bow ski boat for a family reunion. Attorneys said while the boat was being operated at about 5-7 mph and properly loaded at a weight hundreds of pounds below the maximum rated capacity, the bow carrying 4 children swamped, washing Batchelder into the water. The boy became entangled in the boat’s unguarded propeller and died.
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Malibu Boats West, Inc., and Malibu Boats, LLC created the same open bow boat, by cutting a hole in the forward deck of a closed bow boat and adding seats. The jury determined that occupant weight forward in the boat decreased bow freeboard to unacceptable levels and rendered the boat unreasonably dangerous and susceptible to bow swamping.
The jury said Malibu failed to provide any warnings or guidance to users of the boat that the low bow freeboard design was susceptible to bow swamping if weight was being carried in the bow seat.
The jury apportioned 25% of the responsibility for Batchelder’s death to the Malibu defendants, and 75% to the operator.
The jury awarded $80 million for Batchelder’s pain and suffering and wrongful death and an additional $120 million in punitive damages, $40 million to Malibu Boats West, Inc. and $80 million against Malibu Boats, LLC., irrespective of the negligence it found in the driver’s reaction to the sudden and tragic event.
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“The jury sent a very loud and clear message to Malibu and the entire boating industry that manufacturers who have actual knowledge of life threatening safety hazards and intentionally fail to warn and withhold information of dangerous conditions will be held accountable,” Batchelder family attorney Don Fountain said.
Fountain and the Batchelder family hope that this verdict will change the boating industry and prevent any parent from ever experiencing the horrors associated with losing a child.
It was the largest verdict in Rabun County history, and the largest single verdict for the pain and suffering for wrongful death in the history of the State of Georgia.
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