A federal jury Monday found a boat manufacturer partially liable for a 2005 incident on Lake Austin in which a teen’s leg was severed by a propeller. Jurors ordered the company to pay $3.8 million in medical expenses and damages.
After deliberating for about seven hours, jurors found that the Brunswick Corp. shared more than half of the blame for the accident that severely injured Jacob Brochtrup, who was then 18.
Brunswick officials said in a statement after the verdict that they “stand behind our products, which are used safely and properly by boaters around the world.”
Jurors found that Brochtrup also was responsible, as was the driver of the boat.
“I think they made a well thought-out, informed decision, and I think it was the right decision,” said Brochtrup, now 22. “Based on the evidence that was presented, I think the case was proven pretty well.”
Brochtrup sued Sea Ray Boats Inc. and Mercury Marine — Brunswick is their parent company — in 2007, saying they were liable for his injury.
He had been celebrating the July Fourth weekend wakeboarding with three friends at Emma Long Metropolitan Park when the accident happened. Brochtrup had just finished his turn on the wakeboard when a tow rope popped off the back of the white Sea Ray ski boat.
Brochtrup jumped out of the boat to grab the line. Unaware that Brochtrup was in the water behind him, 18-year-old driver Patrick Houston put his family’s boat in reverse.
The propeller caught the top of Brochtrup’s right leg and twisted it around, chopping deep into flesh, muscle and bone.
The suit said that the wound to Brochtrup’s leg was so large that he had lost most of his blood and that it caused his heart to stop. He had been in cardiac arrest for at least 45 minutes, and a STAR Flight helicopter delivered him to the emergency room clinically dead.
Some doctors called him a “one-in-a-million survivor.”
According to the suit, the manufacturer of the boat and motor did not have safety devices, including guards or covers, to prevent Brochtrup from becoming entangled or stuck.
“While we at Brunswick remain sympathetic to the plaintiff for this unfortunate accident, we are nevertheless disappointed with today’s verdict,” Brunswick officials said in the statement Monday. “We will evaluate our options in this matter going forward, including a possible appeal.”
Austin attorney Robby Alden, who represented Brochtrup, said the decision marks the first successful case against the boating industry by a person injured by a motor. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2002 allowed such cases to go forward.
Boat makers prevailed in two similar suits nationally that involved older-model boats, he said. And jurors in two previous trials of Brochtrup’s case deadlocked, resulting in mistrials.
During the latest trial, which began last week, Alden said he sought to show jurors that manufacturers could make boats and motors safer by installing guards on propellers and placing a shield over the back. The concept for a device was created years ago, he said, but the industry has resisted adopting it.
Before the verdict, Brunswick attorney Woody Norwood of New Orleans would only say: “We are very sorry about his injury. It was a very unfortunate accident.”
According to Monday’s decision, Brunswick was 66 percent responsible for the accident, and Brochtrup and the boat’s driver each were 17 percent liable. The driver wasn’t part of the suit and will pay no damages.
Most of the damages were for Brochtrup’s past and future medical expenses. However, he also received $100,000 for his disfigurement and $264,000 for physical pain.
“I think the amounts for the award were fair,” Alden said. “I’m happy about it. Hopefully, they will start making a change to protect people.”
Brochtrup attended the trial and was in court for the verdict. Since his accident, he said, he has learned to live with one leg, but he hopes to receive a prosthesis soon. In recent months, he has been studying to become an audio engineer, and he plans to work in the recording industry.
“It’s not what I would have wanted, but I’m just trying to enjoy life,” he said.