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Derek Hebert was on a Champion center console boat being operated by Daniel Vamvoras on 7 May 2005. They were between the Calcasieu River and Lake Charles County Club. The steering system failed and the boat began to spin (the Circle of Death). Derek Hebert was ejected, struck 19 times by the propeller, and died from his wounds.

While the boating industry sees this as a steering system failure case, it is obviously a Circle of Death case. The hydraulic steering system had a leak, the steering system failed, the outboard swung to one side, the boat went into a “spin”, Derek Hebert was ejected, and fatally struck by the propeller.

Note – while we call this a Circle of Death accident, we do not know if the operator was ejected, incapacitated, or away from the controls. It really did not matter, because the steering system did not work. The natural tendency of the boat to go into the Circle of Death took over. The operator or someone else on board would have to throttle back or kill the engine, or the boat collide with something to stop its forward progress.

Another boat collided with the Vamvoras boat after Derek Hebert had been ejected.

The U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) says the vessel Hebert was ejected from was a 1998, 21 foot Champion Bay Champ 21 powered by a 225 horsepower outboard motor with 7 on board.

Champion 21 foot bay boat, 1998

Champion 21 foot bay boat, 1998. This is not the boat in the accident, it is a similar boat once offered for sale by Rabeaux’s Auto Sales

Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries found the pre-owned boat lost its steering due to a hydraulic leak at a hose/nut or coupling assembly.

It was found the boat’s Teleflex steering system would completely lose steering when only a small amount of hydraulic fluid was lost.

A Wildlife & Fisheries investigator with extensive experience with SeaStar hydraulic power steering systems was surprised to find the loss of 2.7 ounces of hydraulic fluid (about 5 percent of system capacity) could fail the steering system.

The boat owner had tightened a leaky fitting on the steering system and his son (Daniel Vamvoras) had added some fluid. The owner noted the steering system had started making a clicking sound.

Augusto “Kiko” Villalon and Eric Fetchko were hired as experts by Teleflex. They both said the steering system should get “mushy” or “bumpy” before it failed. That would have adequately forewarned the operator of the problem (low hydraulic fluid).

Eric Fetchko did Teleflex no favors when the answered this question:

Eric Fetchko, Teleflex expert witness, being questioned by Plaintiff attorney

Q. And you agree that at some point in the operation of a system that has a steering fluid leak, one more drop and you lose total control?
A. Correct.

Investigators found a hose had been replaced with a non-Teleflex hose, and the leak occurred at a junction of that hose.

Mr. Hebert’s survivors / estate sued Teleflex (now SeaStar Solutions) and others claiming Teleflex failed to warn boat owners and passengers of the risk of losing only a small amount of hydraulic fluid. More precisely, Ron Warren, father of Derek Hebert, representing himself individually and the estate of Derek Hebert, filed the suit.

During the trial, evidence was presented that in 1989 Teleflex was aware the loss of a few teaspoons of hydraulic fluid caused complete failure of the steering system. Teleflex said the system would get “mushy” calling attention to the problem before the steering system totally failed.

The case was tried The jury ruled in favor of Teleflex.

That ruling was overturned because inaccurate information had been provided to the jury. The judge, in response to a question from the jury, mistakenly gave them inaccurate information as to the effective date of an owners manual for the steering system in question.

A second jury ruled in favor of Mr. Hebert’s survivors. They were awarded $125,000 in compensatory damages and $27 million in punitive damages.

The case was appealed to the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals for several issues including the punitive award possibly being excessive and if interest could be applied to the award if awarded by the jury.

On 29 July 2016, Louisiana 3 Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court (the award stands).

Warren v Shelter Mutual Insurance Company, 15-354, 15-838, & 15-1113 (La. App. 3 Cir. 06/29/16) — So. 3d

Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals published their opinion.

Shelter Mutual Insurance (representing Teleflex) filed for a rehearing by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana, but was denied on 3 August 2016.

It is anticipated the award will be appealed.

0 Categories : Legal Shorts

Victor Sanchez

Victor Sanchez

Seattle Mariner’s pitching prospect, Victor Sanchez, age 20, was struck in the head by a boat propeller on Friday February 13th 2015 in Venezuela.

UPDATE – Victor Sanchez remained in a coma after the accident and died 42 days later on Saturday 27 March 2015. – UPDATE
 

Last year Victor Sanchez played for the AA league Jackson Generals. He pitched for three years in the Seattle farm leagues.

Sanchez was struck by the boat propeller while he was swimming on the northern coast of Venezuela near Carupano.

Details are sketchy and most primary sources are in other languages. However, it is known that he suffered one of more skull fractures and swelling of the brain. Most recent reports are that he is still unconscious but has shown some movement of his hands and feet. The swelling of his brain is said to have since caused a stroke.

Sanchez is in critical condition in Polyclinic of Carupano. Specialists were said to be in transit from Caracas to treat him and he may be transferred to Caracas. Read More→

U.S. Coast Guard emblemThe U.S. Coast Guard National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) will be holding its 92nd meeting on November 6th-8th, 2014 in Arlington, Virgina.

Nonprofit Grant Comments

For the first time ever, they invited public comments about non-profit grant interest areas before the meeting. Each year the Coast Guard awards nonprofits a tidy some of money to promote boating safety and to run some studies, like the annual life jacket wear rate study. In 2013, the grants totaled over $5.5 million. Many boating safety organization live and die by these grants. Read More→

0 Categories : Regulations

Konstaninos Angelopoulos filed a $30 million lawsuit against Volvo Penta, Grady-White, Norfolk Marine Company, and Richard Harris (boat owner and operator). The suit is for injuries his daughter, A.E. Angelopoulos, received in a boat propeller accident back on 30 June 2011.

Then 12, she was entrapped by the Duoprop twin contra-rotating propeller stern drive on a 24 foot 2000 Grady White Sailfish boat she was boarding after tubing. Some reports indicate she was drug into the propeller by a tow rope caught in the prop. It took rescue crews about 90 minutes to get the propeller off the boat so she could be brought to shore. Rescuers had her breathing through a snorkel a while, then found a scuba mask and scuba tank as her head was underwater. Read More→

0 Categories : Legal Shorts

Rex Chambers' boat with outboard motor broke off

Rex Chambers’ boat with outboard motor broke off

We updated list of boat accidents on our Outboard Motor Struck Submerged Object and Flipped Into Boat page today (2 June 2014).

The updates included one 2002 accident, several 2013 accidents from the recently released USCG 2013 Public Boating Accident Report Database (BARD),
and the recent Todd Iwamoto and Rex Chambers accidents.

We also added BARD reference numbers to the 2013 accidents we had previously identified.

Once again, we would like to call the boating industry’s attention to the number bass boats with large outboards are appearing on this list in recent years, several of which were participating in bass tournaments. We previously published a 74 page pdf document containing an extensive list of ways to mitigate and prevent these accidents on various types of vessels, including bass boats:

Approaches to Prevent Outboard Motors From Flipping Into Boats After Striking Submerged Objects.

We encourage the boating industry to apply those or other methods where appropriate, and especially call their attention to the bass boat issue.


Social Media posts, photographs, and videos from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube, and others are becoming increasingly important in accident cases (auto accidents, workplace accidents, etc.).

This post will focus more specifically on the legal aspects of sharing and social network Social Media with respect to boat propeller accidents, and more specifically the legal aspects of social media with respect to the boat propeller accident involving DJ Laz. In addition to the many Social Media sites mentioned above, online boating forums represent yet another type of social media as well. Boating forums play such a large role they will be discussed separately in a future post.

Quad Yamaha 350's behind DJ Laz's boat

Quad Yamaha 350’s behind DJ Laz’s boat

Read More→

0 Categories : Legal Shorts

Many have suggested the boating industry’s objections to propeller guards may be profit motivated. Some propeller safety advocates and some of those struck by propellers suggest the industry does not want to use propeller guards because guards will reduce the number of dinged up and bent propellers that need replacing. Fewer bent or damaged props would lead to reduced sales of their highly profitable replacement propellers. This post will focus purely on market size, not on motivations.

Volvo Penta SX Propeller

Volvo Penta SX Propeller

Propellers have long been known to be an extremely profitable business for the boating industry, and especially for manufacturers of marine drives.

As Polson Enterprises, we have been hired several times in the past and paid thousands of dollars to estimate the size of portions or all of the recreational boat propeller market. Just a few days ago, we were asked the same question by a major news network. While we are not going to give away all our secrets for free, we will offer a few statistics here.

 
 
 

RingProp

RingProp safety propeller

In 2002 RingProp, then a UK firm developing a ringed propeller, estimated there were 2.5 million boat propellers being sold annually in the U.S., and about 4 million being sold annually worldwide. We suspect that “those in the know” might tend to discount RingProp’s estimate a few percent due to them trying to rev up potential stock buyers, but the RingProp estimate is a good starting estimate before the current economic downturn in new boat sales. Read More→

2 Categories : Legal Shorts

David Cass

David Cass

David Cass, 30 of Minneapolis Minnesota, was operating a pontoon boat on Lake Bell Taine near Nevis and Park Rapids, in northern Minnesota about 1:45pm Wednesday June 26, 2013. Two other people were onboard the pontoon boat. David Cass moved toward the bow of the pontoon boat, fell overboard, and was struck by the propeller.

When emergency crews arrived, he was unconscious with severe cuts on his arm. They began to try to resuscitate Cass and he was life flighted to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo with life threatening injuries.

He was still in an intensive care unit on Friday June 28th, and died on Sunday June 30, 2013. Read More→

Families and friends of propeller accident victims have memorialized their loved ones in many ways. Among the most popular ways is creating a website or FaceBook page in their memory. Another way is creating audio visual presentations of their life, some of which are used at funerals. Funerals themselves are a way we memorialize our loved ones.

Still others have:

  • Purchased or sponsored a park bench in their honor
  • Written or performed songs
  • Funded scholarships in the name of their loved one
  • Created t-shirts
  • Created a slogan to honor their victim
  • Posted safety messages on You-Tube
  • Raised funds for a specific cause such as purchasing prosthetics for amputees, or life saving groups
  • Started charities to help other victims
  • Launched boating safety efforts in hopes of preventing others from going through the loss they endured
  • Invented propeller safety devices as a means to prevent others from having to go through the same thing
  • Sponsored boating safety regulations in the name of their loved one
  • Painted a rock wall in their honor
  • Endured long court battles against parties they see as responsible for the death of their loved one in an attempt to prevent this from happening to others

We added this Memorials category on our blog on 24 April 2013 to cover some of these memorials. We hope it will inspire others to find similar ways to honor their loved ones lost to boat propellers.

We will be gradually adding posts about specific memorials to this category as time allows.

0 Categories : Memorials

U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) was facing skyrocketing insurance costs for open water swimming events. Costs have risen so high that many members would no longer be able to compete. As a part of the changes, boats will now be required to have propeller guards.

U.S. Masters Swimming Open Water Swimming Propeller Guards

U.S. Masters Swimming Open Water Swimming Propeller Guards

Nadine Day, USMS President, says the increased insurance premium was mostly related to open water swims. Their insurance premium included a $135,000 charge for covering 75 sanctioned open water events at $1800 per event. Any additional open water events would be billed at $1800 per event.

In addition, several more restrictions were placed on open water events making them more costly and complicated to hold. USMS is now hiring new Open Water Compliance Coordinators to help meet those requirements.

USMS has decided to fund $800 of the per event surcharge themselves, pass $1000 on to the Local Masters Swimming Subcommittees who can then decide how much of that $1,000 to pass on to the event host.

They note that solo swims (like one person swimming across the Catalina Channel) were previously considered sanctioned events. Now they must pay the total $1800 insurance fee. Similarly, if a large event elects to host additional open water swims, that event must come up with the $1800 for each one of those swims. Read More→

0 Categories : Regulations