The Michigan Appeals Court has recently confirmed a lower court’s decision to deny liability by the boat hoist and canopy manufacturer, NuCraft, after a serious injury that happened at Lake Margrethe involving the fitting of one of their canopies.
The first plaintiff was a woman who fell off a boat hoist while attempting to fit a canopy with the help of her husband and two other people at her husband’s mother’s cottage in June 2013.
The lawsuit filed originally against NuCraft alleged that the company had not given clear enough warnings about fitting the canopy while the boat was on a hoist and that it was defective in design. The woman’s husband also claimed damages from NuCraft for loss of consortium after the injuries to his wife and for emotional suffering inflicted while he witnessed his wife’s fall.
Both the hoist and the canopy were manufactured and supplied by NuCraft. The husband had bought both hoist and canopy and launched his boat while the four people were at Lake Margrethe on the 1st June 2013. He decided to put the boat on to the pontoon and raise the hoist. With the boat suspended by the hoist it was then decided that the canopy should be fitted in case of rain that was expected that night.
The four of them stood on the boat while it was on the hoist to try and fit the canopy over the canopy frame that was already attached to the boat. It was during thi time that the woman fell backwards off a bench on the back of the boat. She said later that the canopy had slipped through her hands. She landed on her back and severed her spine. The injury meant that she became a paraplegic, the injuries being severe enough to warrant a personal injury claim by the woman. Initially, the claim was made against one of the other two people but this was changed to NuCraft as sole defendant after an amendment t the claim.
The husband claimed that he had spoken to NuCraft’s vice president on the phone the night before the accident and that the vice president had suggested that it would be easier to fit the canopy while it was on the hoist.
When the claim went to trial, NuCraft submitted a rebuttal of the main arguments of the plaintiff. The company said that as the plaintiff had not come up with any safer alternative design, it could not be argued that their hoist and canopy showed “negligent design”. They also said that there were warning signs printed on the canopy warning any user not to put the boat in the hoist while fitting the canopy. NuCraft said that the warnings were clear enough and that the husband and his group had ignored the warnings even though they contradicted what the vice president of the company had allegedly said.
The trial court ruled in favor of NuCraft, but the plaintiffs appealed, citing new evidence that a canopy manufacturer had showed them a different design which was safer. They also claimed that the warnings that NuCraft gave were insufficient.
At the Appeals court, the original decision by the lower court was affirmed. It was concluded that the plaintiff’s expert had not done a cost –benefit analysis of his product and that it was not commercially available. That meant that there was no substantive evidence that there was a safer alternative to the canopy design that NuCraft had. The court also concluded that the warnings that the company had fitted to the canopy were sufficiently clear to any “prudent user” that it was potentially dangerous to try and fit the canopy while the boat was raised up on the hoist.
The injury that this woman suffered was tragic and potentially could have led to significant damages being paid by the canopy manufacturer. However, all liability claims must establish proof that there is negligence involved. It appears in this case that the plaintiffs erred in not having sufficiently prepared their case.
Personal injury claims involving product defects are complex legal battles and need experienced and dedicated personal injury attorneys to negotiate. If you, or a family member have been badly injured by a defective product and you are sure that you have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the manufacturer or distributor of the product was to blame for the injury you should seek legal advice. Talk to a personal injury attorney at Abood Law in East Lansing or Birmingham, Michigan. You can contact the office at 517.332.5900 (East Lansing office) or 248.549.0000 (Birmingham office).