Batchelder vs Malibu: $200 million jury verdict stands

This case arose from a 2014 propeller strike in Georgia in which water came over the bow of a 2000 Malibu Response LX rental ski boat when it crossed its own wake. Seven year old Ryan Batchelder was washed out of or jumped from the bow and was fatally struck by the boat’s propeller. More details on the history of this case are near the end of this post.

In August 2021, the jury found Malibu guilty, awarding a total of $200 million.

Among issues in the case was Malibu’s failure to warn boat owners after Malibu knew of the hazard (2000 Malibu Response LX taking water over the bow).

Malibu Moved for New Verdict or New Trial

In September 2021, Malibu moved for a new verdict or a new trial. Issues raised by Malibu at this time included their view that Malibu LLC was not a continuation of Malibu West, they thought the punitive award was excessive, Malibu owed no duty to Ryan Batchelder, Malibu was not allowed to bring up there were no similar accidents, and more.

Both sides have been asserting their respective positions to the court since September 2021.

On Monday July 18, 2022, the court ruled on the motions and issues raised by Malibu.

The court stated, “These matters came to a hearing on May 26, 2022. After considering the parties’ written submissions, the arguments of the parties, the Court record, and all other matters proper, Malibu LLC’s action is hereby DENIED.”

2000 Malibu Response LX Courtesy

2000 Malibu Response LX

Comments by Others

A July 18th Facebook post by Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin (plaintiff legal team for the family) covered the ruling. Don Fountain wrote, “We support the judge’s decision that there was no legal basis to proceed with a new trial.” They say Malibu LLC has 30-days to decide if it will appeal. If so they, Malibu, must post a bond for the judgement.

Clark Fountain also summarized the case online.

Law 360, a well known legal blog, wrote:

A Georgia state court on Monday rejected Malibu Boat’s attempt to ditch a $200 million jury verdict in favor of the parents of a young boy killed in a boating accident, ruling the verdict was “well-supported and squarely within constitutional bounds.”

Details of the Judge’s Ruling

The court ruling was accompanied by about 80 pages of reasoning behind the Judge’s decision.

The reasoning was particularly brutal concerning Malibu’s conduct, failure to warning boat owners of the safety hazard, Malibu’s actions when they knew of the hazard, and their conduct in court regarding certain issues.

Thanks to Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin for posting the:

Mother Speaks Out on Judges Order

Some snippets of the judge’s ruling follow:

Punitive Damages

First Amended Order on Malibu Boats LLC’s Post-Trial Motions. Page 1.

“Additionally, the punitive damages award was well supported and squarely within constitutional bounds. Compelling evidence established that Malibu made repeated conscious decisions to not warn of a known safety defect, it mocked customers who attempted to raise concerns about bow swamping, it decided to warn about the risks of bow swamping on new boats, including the Response LX, while refusing to warn on identical boats it had already sold, despite knowing that the swamping risk posed the life-threatening hazard of “washing a small child” from the bow. The punitive damages awards against Malibu West and Malibu LLC are well within a single digit ratio when properly compared to the harm suffered by Ryan.”

Malibu Knew of the Hazard

Order on Malibu Boats, LLC’s Post-Trial Motions. Pages 61-62

“Simply, Malibu actually knew of a life-threatening safety hazard with the Response LX, made serial calculated decisions to not warn about it, and still to this day has refused to make any changes. It mocked its customers as “fatties,” refused warnings for “aesthetic reasons,” explicitly noted the bow swamping hazard was ejecting children into the water when the propeller was running, but only warned when it thought it was strategic to avoid liability, without any concern for the actual safety of its customers or their children. That conduct was extremely reprehensible, proved by clear and convincing evidence, and the amount of punitive damages was appropriate because of the reprehensibility, the extreme harm, Malibu’s worldly circumstances and the fact Malibu has not relented in its obstinance to this very day.”

Malibu Failed to Warn and Still Fails to Warn

Order on Malibu Boats, LLC’s Post-Trial Motions. Page 63

“Here, Malibu’s conduct shows egregious reprehensibility. Malibu is the world’s largest ski boat manufacturer but its mocking attitude toward safety concerns and repeated deliberate decisions to not warn of a known hazard to life and safety is worse than the darkest stereotypes of a calloused, consciously indifferent company that weights human lives in terms of dollars on its profit margins. Its original design process was slipshod, its employees immediately realized the boats were taking water over the bow, its Australian distributor warned them of bow swamping with a substantively identical boat and instead of warning it mocked it customers. … Despite all that knowledge, Malibu made serial repeated decisions to not warn, causing this accident.”

Malibu Engaged in Willful Misconduct

Order on Malibu Boats, LLC’s Post-Trial Motions. Page 68

“Here, the punitive award was supported by a finding by clear and convincing evidence that Malibu engaged in a willful misconduct, wantonness, and that entire want of care that raises the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences. Malibu deliberately and intentionally chose to not warn existing customers of a known hazard to life and health Indeed, there is no need for a presumption, Malibu’s employees testimony showed explicit indifference to consequences, mocking reports of swamped boats in Australia and noting it was warning new customers but deciding nonetheless to not warn existing customers.”

Post Sale Monitoring Product Safety

Malibu failed to actively monitor how their boats were doing in the field so they could address safety issues, such as taking water over the bow. Malibu was aware of the U.S Coast Guard BARD database, but failed to use it.

We, Polson Enterprises, assisted in identifying Malibu accidents for the Plaintiff in this case (for attorneys representing the Batchelder family).

Those materials have been placed in a second post titled, Batchelder vs. Malibu: Monitoring Post Sale Safety”.

Podcast About the Batchelder Trial

Links to the Past History of this Case

Ryan Batchelder clipped from NBC Channel 4 image

Ryan Batchelder
clipped from NBC Channel 4 image

Seven year old Ryan Batchelder was killed in a 2014 propeller accident in Georgia.

His family sued Malibu boats for a design defect and failure to warn.

The legal case was in Georgia’s Rabun County Superior Court.

In August 2021, the jury found Malibu guilty, awarding a total of $200 million in the Batchelder case.

In September 2021, Malibu moved for a new verdict or a new trial.

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