Update on Daniel Perez vs. Yamaha Motor ($39 million verdict in June 2011)

On Easter Sunday, March 27, 2005, two teenage girls from Cooper City (Samantha Archer,15, and Jaysell Perez, 14) borrowed a 2001 Yamaha WaveRunner X800 PWC from a family friend at his waterfront home. They took it out on the intracoastal waterway at West Palm Beach, Florida near Currie Park. While in process of turning around and heading back to shore, Archer let off the throttle and attempted to steer away from hitting a 31 foot high performance boat.

When Samantha Archer backed off the throttle, the Yamaha WaveRunner lost steering and they collided with the boat. Both girls were struck by the boat’s twin propellers. Jaysell Perez was killed and Samantha Archer was horribly injured.

The accident resulted in:
Daniel Perez vs. Yamaha Motor Corporation USA. Case # 2006CA005301. 15th Judicial Circuit Court of Palm Beach County, Florida.

Yamaha claimed the steering was not defective. They said that loosing steering in off throttle conditions was characteristic of most watercraft at that time.

Plaintiff attorney Robert “Robbie” Baker of Baker & Zimmerman argued that Yamaha had buried their head in the sand like ostriches instead of listening to warnings from their own engineers about the steering defect (no steering in off throttle conditions).

Baker also argued that Yamaha was one of the last PWC builders to correct the defect when they fixed it in 2003 (the girls were on a 2001 model). He noted that beginners intuitively back off the throttle to slow for a turn (as Archer did to turn away from the boat) and loose steering. He said Yamaha recognized the danger of beginners backing off the throttle when turning in their owners manuals (prior to the 2001 manual).

Archer’s injuries and future needs were discussed. Among her injuries were degloving of both upper legs and buttocks, fractured pelvis, fracture and separation of the right shoulder, loss of four upper and four lower teeth, severed patella tendon, ruptured colon and intestines, and massive lacerations. Her injuries required hospitalization for months.

Her mother testified she is not the same girl. She has angry outbursts, she is unreasonable, she made bad decisions, she was depressed, she could not concentrate in school, and became in involved with drugs and alcohol. Three years after the accident she learned her daughter suffered Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome and sustained a traumatic brain injury during the accident. Samantha Archer was put in a drug rehabilitation program and a program for those suffering traumatic brain injuries. The programs helped, but Samantha still struggles. Doctors testified she lacks the capacity to hold a job, marry, have children, or live on her own.

Samantha will need multiple hip and knee replacements in the future and will have to confront physical, mental, and psychological challenges. Doctors testified she will likely need four hip replacements as they typically last about 15 years. An economist testified her future medical care and support would cost $6.7 million.

Collision Analysis (an accident reconstruction firm) produced a simple rudder system for the Yamaha WaveRunner and showed how if the rudder system had been used, the accident would have been avoided.

Defense attorney Richard Mueller of Thompson Coburn, said the girls were inexperienced and were let loose illegally on the waterways on a holiday weekend, and Archer did not receive the proper training. He said the steering apparatus was not defective in its design and therefore not responsible for the death of Perez of the injuries of Archer.

Defense attorneys argued the proposed rudder steering system was more dangerous than the off throttle steering problems it attempted to solve (same argument the boating industry uses against propeller guards).

Corporate heads of Yamaha of Japan and its subsidiaries testified in their defense.

Yamaha attorneys also tried to prove Samantha Archer had no memory of the accident (and thus could not testify that she let off the throttle). Samantha said she remembered it, she just did not know that if she let off the throttle she could not steer the Yamaha WaveRunner X800.

Defendants also argued that Samantha Archer was still able to enjoy life as seen in some Facebook photos.

Samantha’s mother testified that if she had known of the steering limitations, she would not have let the girls take the Yamaha WaveRunner out.

Full video coverage of the six week trial is available on the Courtroom View Network, the same group that graciously allowed us access to the Listman trial.

Plaintiffs sought economic, non economic, and punitive damages. Judge David Crow dismissed the claim for punitive damages saying there was no evidence to support that claim.

Plaintiffs asked the jury for $100 million.

On June 10, 2011, after three days of deliberation, a Palm Beach County Court Jury awarded the Plaintiffs $39 million ($19 million to the parents of deceased Jaysell Perez and $16 million to Samantha Archer, now age 21).

The jury assigned the blame as follows:

  • 88 percent to the Yamaha distributor and manufacturer = $35 million
  • 10 percent to Nicolette Archer (Samantha’s mother) who took the girls to the Easter party and gave them permission to take the WaveRunner out
  • 1 percent to the WaveRunner’s owner that let them borrow the PWC
  • 1 percent to Samantha Archer (operator of the Yamaha WaveRunner X800)

A juror interviewed later by the Palm Beach Post said, “They put sales above lives.”

Yamaha later requested the verdict be thrown out, claiming the rulings made by the Judge during the trial prejudiced the jury against Yamaha. Their request was denied by a Palm Beach County Circuit Judge.

Yamaha filed an appeal of the lower court ruling on October 4, 2011 with the 4th District Court of Appeals in Palm Beach.

Case # 11-3660 Yamaha Motor Corporation vs. Samantha Archer, et al

Case # 11-3662 Yamaha Motor Corporation vs. Daniel Perez etc.

As of September 28, 2012, both appeals are still proceeding. The docket in both cases are still accumulating documents from the previous trial.

Meanwhile, the Perez family has established a nice online memorial for their daughter Jaysell Perez – was at Jaysell dot com, was gone by May 2016.

The rudder steering feature was added by Yamaha to the WaveRunner in 2003.

While this case focuses on Yamaha’s 2001 WaveRunner’s lack of steering in off throttle conditions, it would not exist (or certainly not be a case of this magnitude) if the two girls had not been struck by the boat’s propellers. Just like the Bell vs. MasterCraft suit that focused on boat design that also would not have happened if two people had not came in contact with the propeller. Both resulted in verdicts in the range of $30 million.

We would especially like to thank the Palm Beach Post for their exceptional coverage of the original trial.

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