Court: Manufacturer Not Liable for WaveRunner Injury

By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 22, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When you see youngsters racing by on motorcycles, you might wonder if they make it to adulthood.

Chances are they do, but it helps if they have a helmet, boots and other protective clothing. Now think about those kids skimming across the ocean on those water motorcycles.

They may not need helmets, but they definitely need protective wear. Deborah Meek Hickerson didn't think so in Hickerson v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.

'Wear Protective Clothing'

Hickerson was a passenger on a personal watercraft when she slipped off and suffered severe internal injuries. She sued Yamaha, the manufacturer, for negligence, design and warning defects.

A trial judge entered summary judgment against her, based in part on the warning label on the VXS WaveRunner. The label, and the owner's manual, say:

"WEAR PROTECTIVE CLOTHING. Severe internal injuries can occur if water is forced into body cavities as a result of falling into water or being near jet thrust nozzle. Normal swimwear does not adequately protect against forceful water entry into rectum or vagina. All riders must wear a wet suit bottom or clothing that provides equivalent protection."

Hickerson didn't read the label. She was wearing a bikini. She had been drinking. Her driver was 10 years old.

Wearing a Bikini

Judgment affirmed, said the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But, Hickerson argued, her expert witness said the warnings were inadequate. Passengers couldn't see them or know the danger of riding without a wetsuit, he said.

The appeals court said the expert did not back up his opinion with any research, data or scientific theories. Yamaha, on the other hand, provided unrefuted evidence that the Coast Guard had approved the warnings.

Personal watercraft rules have evolved since they first splashed in the 1960s. Basic safety rules include wearing a life vest and a wetsuit.

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