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Stop Propeller Injuries Now

Stop Propeller Injuries Now



This could be the most important trial in the history of litigants seeking to make the marine industry accountable for the death and grievous injury caused by an unprotected boat propeller.


            “A typical three blade propeller funning at 3,200 rpm can inflict 160 impacts in one second.”



In l999 Audrey Decker and her husband were out for a brief sunset cruise behind their home while their dinner was heating on the grill. Audrey was thrown from her seat overboard and struck by the propeller.


Many details of her medical expenses resulting from the severe disfigurement and physical suffering are covered in www.naplesnews.com/accounts in articles by Aisling Swift; in www.bradenton.com, www.nbc-2.com. Her life has been changed forever by the horrifying consequences of this accident.



Audrey Decker is suing for her injuries, pain and suffering, disability, mental anguish, hospital and doctors’ expenses, medical treatment and nursing care; loss of earnings and the ability to earn money, permanent loss of mobility and sight, etc.  She is suing OMC for failing to provide a propeller guard, warning of the dangerous design, and not providing information on after-market products available to protect against the propeller in the event of being thrown over-board. This will be a major test of the right of a propeller strike victim, in the absence of USCG regulation, to seek redress from the marine industry for creating a dangerous product. 


See Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine.2002, US Supreme Court 2002 at www.supremecourtus.gov


            See the “crash worthiness doctrine”Florida, 2001, Supreme Court case of D’Amario v. Ford Motor Company


This statement is not intended to review all the trial details.  Refer to the media coverage, as previously stated.  We wish to point out several weak or questionable points in the defense’s position.


1.      Kueny refers to a 2009 document wherein the US Coast Guard states that guards would protect against propeller strike accidents. This document is unknown to us and we would like to see it. He correctly indicates that the USCG supported guards for non-planing houseboats under NPRM 10163. 


This proposed rule was withdrawn when the USCG failed to completely document the accident record to justify the cost-benefit analysis.  See www.rbbi.com    - “USCG Withdraws Proposed…” Response from the Propeller Guard Information Center,” 23 January 2009.


2.      O’Sullivan impugns the credibility of Benda’s testing         of prop guard by reference to a USCG protocol. He states that his tests did not follow this protocol. There is no USCG approved and published test protocol.  While there have been several trials to develop a guard test protocol, nothing has been published to our knowledge. I would recommend that this be checked with the Office of Boating Safety at USCG in D.C.


3.      Warnings. This issue might have been covered in more depth. The principle of design-out the defect or danger or warn is a basic engineering principle.  Fans are covered with grills (a) house fans (b) refrigerator fan (c) car engine fan. A household blender has a top.  A garbage disposal has a switch, and warning. Sharp blades of saws, mowers, etc. are shielded.  Airports restrict access to experienced and trained operators.  A thrasher operator is trained. Unlike a razor or a kitchen or hunting knife where experience is your lesson, the knife-like blades on a propeller are hidden under water.  A novice or experienced operator thrown over board in harms way of the propeller, are equally likely to become struck.  It is not what you know when you come within striking zone of a propeller…by then it is too late. 


Warnings have been recommended since the l989 NBSAC subcommittee report.  Admiral Nelson’s l990 answer to those recommendations twice mentioned the development of warnings. Yet BIRMSI, a committee of the National Marine Manufacturers chose to exclude it from the CO2 warning and to treat it as a separate warning label. It has still not been developed. There is no ANSI, ABYC or NMMA approved label. Dealers have shared a generic label and slap it on boats.  


A January 2005 article written by BoatUS Magazine, a publication to the trade and the recreational boating community, entitled “Stuck On You – A Wash With Warning Labels,” stated a number of concerns about placement and language of the multiplicity of labels.  “Warning labels are now so commonplace….”  They cited some 25 warning labels to affix to boats and 22 to boat accessories.  A T-5 standard for labels dates back to l990. There is no approved label for propeller warnings to date.


The article states that ABYC guidance requires:


“1.) The hazard is associated with the use of the equipment

 2.) The manufacturer knows of the hazard

 3.) The hazard is not obvious or readily discoverable by the user and,

 4.) The hazard will exist during normal use or foreseeable misuse.”


The NMMA subcommittee BIRMSI, charged to develop the propeller warning label, still does not have a product label.


4.      Wasted Resources. Robert Taylor of Failure Analysis estimated that his company had been paid

“$60 million to defend manufacturers in propeller guard cases.”


That would be for at least two major companies OMC and Mercury Marine and perhaps Honda and Volvo.   So many of these cases – estimated to be as many as 500 – have been settled out of court or muzzled and so it is difficult to calculate the actual costs of the defense.  However, you need to add the legal costs and out of court settlements to this $ 60 million dollars.  Additionally, this number does not take into account the costs of blunt trauma and entrapment studies conducted at the Univ. of Tennessee and Syracuse University,  the costs of various impact studies by Huelke (l988) and Scott, Labra in l993 and other “experts”. The cost caused by the unforgiving exclusive warranty.  Specifically their work with the Marine Corp on the Chadwell guard and the threat to void the warranty:  (a) as any alteration to the motor would void the warranty (b) or “the warranty was void by the installation or use of parts and accessories which are not manufactured or sold by us.”


This warranty excluded all aftermarket guards and so the Deckers would not have been free to buy and install a guard on the open market.  The cost of this to the Deckers is what this trial is all about. 


The costs of the industry rebuttals to the work of Hill, Taggert, Thibault and Reed.  Reed’s work in l987, studying three specific types of propellers reported favorably.  He notes:  “The state-of-the-art was such that in the mid 1950ties it was technologically feasible to design a propeller guard of the Chadwell type”, superior in powering performance than the l987 model. “The state of the art was such that by l968, it was technologically feasible to design a propeller guard of the Flood-Schultz type” - also superior to the current model in powering performance



Apparently we were not technological dinosaurs in the fifties or sixties, but the industry was unwilling. Instead they spent many millions on fake science, court charges, defensive postures to denigrate the advocates, figuring it was cheaper than actually correcting the problem. They stifled incentive and actively discouraged innovation. Did it not occur to them to offer a national competition with a million dollar bonus to someone to come up with a solution? Imagine the fertile engineering climate that might have fostered. 


Given all that the industry has spent to wrap them in deniability, what happens to this $ 60 million dollar figure?  Is it tripled?  Is this their $180 million dollar problem?


Most tragically, how do you calculate the life lost or the life-time destroyed or forever altered?  More millions – many more millions. 



Our best wishes for a successful outcome – for you and for all those who will follow.   



S.P.I.N. Stop Propeller Injuries Now S.P.I.N. - Stop Propeller Injuries Now
2365 Conejo Court
Los Osos, CA, 93402
tel. 805-528-0554 - fax. 805-526-8756
email:  spinsafety@gmail.com