Cost of Propeller Accidents

Mercury Marine inflatable boat

Mercury Marine inflatable

When most people think about the cost of recreational boat propeller accidents they focus on the emergency rescue and EMT personnel at the accident site, being life flighted to a hospital, and the medical costs associated with being in the hospital a few weeks.

Few are aware that many victims also undergo numerous surgeries during their hospital stay that run the bills up even higher, plus some continue to endure surgeries for the rest of their lives.

While the initial medical bills are astronomical, they often pale in comparison to the long term health care costs and the psychological impact the accident has upon the propeller accident victim, their family, and their loved ones. This report will primarily focus on the ancillary costs of propeller accidents, however we will begin by providing a few examples of the early medical costs.

Initial Medical Costs of Boat Propeller Injuries

Some victims have shared some of their early medical costs with the press to give the public a concept of the financial burden place upon them. Others have supplied detailed costs in life care plans reviewed in court cases.

A fourteen year old Florida girl, Gabby deSouza, was struck by a propeller in a high profile accident February 5, 2011. A WPTV March 10, 2011 news report indicates her uncle said his niece’s mother met with the hospital’s financial counselor on the third day of her hospital stay and her bill was “already well over $300,000.” It was over seven weeks before the teenager was finally able to go home.

In the Audrey Decker v. OMC case, her medical costs to date at the 2010 trial were approaching $900,000. She was injured in 1999 and the trial was in 2009.

We have spoken to some lawyers that mentioned their propeller injury client’s medical costs were in excess of $1 million.

Lifetime Medical Costs for Boat Propeller Accident Victims

Jacob Brochtrup, an eighteen year old Texan at the time of his accident had a Life Care Plan and Cost Analysis filed in his behalf in the Brochtrup v. Mercury Marine and Sea Ray case estimating his costs in excess of $2.9 million as a result of his accident. Note – those costs were for his life time care beginning at age 22 and do NOT include his medical costs prior to that date (he was injured at 18). The actual breakout of costs in the award were:

  • $168,680.11 for past medical care expenses – those costs may be after a write down by the health providers
  • $200,000 for past physical pain and mental anguish
  • $100,000 for disfigurement
  • $264,000 for physical impairment
  • $2,927,137.67 for future medical and life care expenses
  • $200,000 for physical pain and mental anguish that will likely be incurred in the future

Note – Brunswick was found 66 percent liable for the amounts above.

Ancillary Costs of Boat Propeller Accidents

Ancillary costs included both financial and psychological costs placed upon the victim, their family, and their loved ones.

Victim Financial Costs

Beyond the initial medical costs mentioned earlier, these costs MAY include:

  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Loss of potential earnings
  • Loss of consortium (spouse is unable to provide love, sex, and services of a spouse due to their injuries)
  • Prosthetics (very expensive, youth go thru several as they grow, adults wear them out, technology creates “next generation” even more expensive units). Prosthetics are a major ongoing cost with many arm or below the knee prosthetics running from $6,000 to $15,000 or more, with high end units offering additional functions. Prosthetics for those losing arms below the elbow or legs below the knee run toward the bottom end of the estimates, while those losing arms above the elbow or legs above the knee run toward the high end of the estimates. Prosthetics for those losing legs above the hip joint cost far more and are far more difficult to use.
  • Crutches
  • Psychological counseling
  • In home care – many victims require in home care a while after coming home, plus again after they get older due to impact of aging on those with disabilities
  • Medications – (prevent infection, wound dressings, pain killers, phantom pain, anti-depression, antibiotics, amputee skin creams, antifugicides, anti-inflammatory, and other medications)
  • Various equipment to meet their needs (shower seats, reach extenders, shoe horns, velcro clothing, velcro shoes, home intercoms, etc.)
  • Custom vehicles (drive without two hands or without two feet)
  • Amputees often suffer back pain due to imbalanced loading
  • Lower amputees often require scooters and power chairs as they age
  • Lower amputees often develop chronic degenerative arthritis from their altered gait
  • Routine diagnostic services throughout their lives (every time some new problem comes up, or an old one flares up again)
  • Replacement prosthetics
  • Physical therapy with each new prosthetic
  • Intermittent physical therapy as needed
  • Medical case management (someone to keep an eye on their total medical care, remember what needs done every few years, to help guide them through the medical system, they facilitate the recommended treatment plan, etc.)
  • Converting their home or apartment to being wheelchair accessible
  • Moving to a more wheelchair accessible community
  • Loss of Earnings (due to missing work, possibly no longer being employable, perhaps loosing their job for being unable to work for months after the accident, or not being employable at a similar paying job)
  • Vocational rehabilitation training for a new job or how to do their old job with their new limitations
  • Some body core propeller strike victims are living with ostomy systems (pouch for bowel movements out a hole in your torso). They incur medical and psychological costs associated with their ostomy.
  • The victim’s family and loved ones are often out travel and housing costs as they stay near the victim during the first several days in the hospital. Some may be out food and housing costs for over a month as they stay till the propeller accident victim is released.
  • Later, if the victim or their family seek legal action against the manufacturers or other parties they feel are responsible, they may be out food, housing and lost wages for weeks during a trial which may extend into multiple trials.
  • Some propeller victims played major rolls in small or family businesses prior to their accident. Those businesses may not be able to continue without them and their skills, resulting in the loss of several jobs.
  • With many victims being 20 – 35 year old males, they are often the breadwinner in young families that may have a car loan, home mortgage, and other regular financial obligations they can no longer meet. A propeller accident can cause them to lose their home and vehicles.

Victim Psychological Costs

  • Initial stress of recognizing your life may be changed forever, waking up and noticing you are short one of more limbs, concern over countless projects you had ongoing before the accident and who will look after your family during your hospital stay.
  • How are we going to be able to pay for this? Even if the injured party has insurance financial costs can still be extremely high, especially including prosthetics which are often not covered or not fully covered by insurance plans.
  • Constantly being the “odd person” in the room (in a wheel chair, no leg, no hand, visibility of a prosthetic, etc.)
  • Sometimes have no memory of the accident and find that disquieting
  • Students or adults may switch career plans due to limited physical abilities
  • Previous hobbies may no longer be possible due to limitations
  • Previous recreational activities may now be impossible or very challenging, certainly not relaxing like they once were.
  • School, University, or Recreational athletics are often no longer possible, or participation is lengthily delayed
  • Developing relationships with the opposite sex which most find challenging anyway, becomes much more difficult due to the boat propeller victim’s self image.
  • Fears about being able to perform routine tasks in the future.
  • Lower amputees recognize they will have safety problems in many routine tasks such as climbing a ladder, checking the roof or attic of their house, cleaning out gutters, painting, pruning tress, mowing, and countless other tasks.
  • Amputees begin to recognize they will need increased assistance with tasks as they age
  • Victim’s faces are sometimes disfigured at great social costs
  • Legal cases that can go on for a decade or more place tremendous stress on the victim and their support group.
  • Some head strike survivors loose much of their mental capacity
  • Life at wheel chair height for extended periods of time to a lifetime can be extremely frustrating. Propeller accident victims are out of eye level communication and cannot seem to reach anything.
  • Some married propeller victims have divorced after the accident, probably in part due to the stresses brought on by the propeller accident.
  • The stress toll of severe propeller accidents can overwhelm normal people. A few years back I was trying to track down a specific propeller victim to ask them a few questions about their accident. As my research progressed, I noticed the individual had a few run ins with the law. I stopped looking after I noticed they had shot somebody.
  • In court, the victim’s dirty laundry will be aired by the defense. Defense attorneys will do everything possible to portray the victim in a bad light (that is their job). It will get ugly. The process will cause the victim and their family stress.

Victim’s Family and Loved Ones Psychological Costs

  • Family members often witness the accident and carry those memories forever. Witness are in shock and trying to get help for their loved ones. Just listen to some of the audio tapes of 911 boat propeller accident calls like the triple fatality at Ponce de Leon Inlet on the Intracoastal Waterway in Volusia County Florida 31 May 2010. A large boat passed over a smaller boat killing a father, his 9 month pregnant daughter, and her unborn child with its propeller.
  • Sometimes search crews stay behind after the propeller accident victim has been life flighted to the hospital to search for a missing limb in hopes of finding it in time for it to be reattached. This is already a very stressful time for the family, worrying about a search crew trying to find a limb (which is wonderful they are doing that) is just another element of stress to the family as they wait on the ticking clock.
  • The family wonders if they be able to save the victim’s mangled limb that is still attached? The family may be involved in that decision, amputate now or things may be worse later.
  • Victim’s families often endure stress over whether the limb attachment will be successful over the first few days
  • Concerns over the victim having major infections from lake or river water in the wounds during the early stages of recovery.
  • Financial stress over trying to meet the doctor bills and other medical costs.
  • Family members are often driving the boat that struck the victim. They feel a lifetime of remorse, and are sometimes actually sued by the victim or victim’s family creating significant rifts in a onetime tight knit family.
  • Propeller victims are often young, leading to parents loosing their children or having to settle for different expectations of their children’s lives, or always having concerns about them they did not previously anticipate having.
  • A portion of the mental challenges family members face may be due to being in a very relaxed state on a recreational outing one moment, then seeing your loved one chopped up by a propeller the next. The suddenness of the event in a relaxed sitting may make it more indelibly engraved in their minds.
  • Sometimes a propeller accident victim’s body may not be recovered for a few days, if ever. This places severe stress on the family and loved one looking for some sort of closure of the immediate event.
  • Propeller victims are often struck by hit and run boaters. The family is in great stress while authorities try to find who ran over their loved one. Sometimes those responsible are never found. Sometimes those in the boat that hit their loved one may have reasonable explanations for why the accident occurred or why they did not stop. The family of the person struck may not believe the explanations offered resulting in more stress.
  • One of the greatest psychological costs on families of propeller fatality victims is empty seats around the table at the holidays for the remainder of their lives.
  • With many stuck down in their youth, families miss the events their children would have participate in (prom, high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, and the grandchildren they expected to one day celebrate and enjoy).
  • Dealing with the apparent senselessness of their loved one being struck down or killed by reckless, careless boaters under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Several propeller victims are struck outside the U.S. by boats and motors made here or the same as those made or sold here. Medical care is often limited and distant leading to long, traumatic, stressful rides to the hospital. Legal recourse and local government assistance may not exist. Local governments in resort areas are often seen as protecting their businesses, industries, local politicians, and well known individuals at the expense of finding out what really happened. Well placed individuals may be above the law. This creates great stress to those trying to resolve what happened and trying to call those responsible to justice. We have visited with many families caught in these types of problems for several years. Just watch the Who Kirsty MacColl? BBC documentary as an example. In 2000, a well known young female singer was ran over by a boat belonging to a very wealthy man in Mexico. The lady’s mother continued to seek the truth and desires to bring the parties responsible to justice. The “system” has challenges here, but they can certainly be multiplied outside the U.S. The family’s efforts pretty much ground to a hault in December 2009 when the Mexican government closed the case.

Intangible Cost of Boat Propeller Accidents

This section on intangible costs was added May 29, 2012

Many individuals and families have a wide range of challenges and struggles after a major propeller accident related to the emotion, stresses, and post traumatic stresses (PTS) placed upon them and their relationships. Those challenges often lead to even greater financial challenges than would be placed on them by the accident itself. This field has not been studied specific to propeller injuries, but studies exist in related fields such as road traffic injuries.

  • A Quantitative Approach to the Intangible Cost of Road Traffic Injuries. Perez-Nunez, Pelcastre-Villafuerte, Hijar, Avila-Burgos, and Celis (of several Mexican Universities). International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion. Vol.19. No.1. 2012. Pgs. 69-79. This study focuses on the responses of 12 individuals that were injured and on the relatives of 12 people that died.

The reference above notes one major consequence of road traffic injuries is the temporary or permanent dependence on others to perform daily tasks. This creates frustration, pain, embarrassment, and even anger. Families also fight over who should be the caregiver. The authors include a nice chart showing the interactions of the Consequences on household economy, Family life, Health, and Personal life. They note households themselves often change as some residents may leave to be on their own due to decreased earning power of the previous breadwinner, new people may be in the household to act as caregivers, strained relationships can disintegrate the household. Those remaining in the household often take on new duties and responsibilities some of which they may find challenging or impossible.

Financial strains can lead to diet changes, loss of household services, inability to buy gifts and clothes, loss of assets, and the postponement or suspension of medical care.

Sudden, unplanned expenses become the norm.

In the case of automobile accidents, the family has also lost its source of transportation.

Life’s projects (major plans, trips, purchases, goals) are shelved or changed.

Uncertainty is everywhere because the family cannot clearly see how long they are going to be able to survive the financial crisis, the ever changing medical prognosis, and other facets of the accident.

Cost of Propeller Accidents for Regulatory Purposes

This regulatory cost section was added 15 April 2013.

In calculating the cost of proposed regulations, the U.S. Government (with aid from the industry and public comments) estimates the cost of implementation of the proposed rule (equipment costs, installation costs, training costs, service costs, downtime costs, life cycle costs, etc) and compares that with the costs of injuries and fatalities over a selected number of years.

The cost of injuries and fatalities is based on the value of a random human life (often called the Value of a Statistical Life or VSL). Many government agencies have established their own value of a human life. The Department of Homeland Security under which the U.S. Coast Guard operates used a VSL of $6.5 million (2010 dollars) in 2011.

The cost of injuries are calculated as a fraction of the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) based on their severity. The automotive industry and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), use a scale called the Maximum Abbreviated Injury Scale or MAIS to rate the severity of injuries. For propeller accidents, USCG selected MAIS 4 as the average severity of a propeller accident. The Department of Transportation (DOT), under which USCG operated before being moved to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), established a table placing the value of of an injury as a fraction of VSL based on its MAIS scale rating. DOT’s table assigns a fraction of .1875 VSL to MAIS 4 injuries. Therefore if the current VSL was $6.5 million, the value of a propeller injury for regulatory purposes would be (.1875) X $6.5 million or approximately $1.2 million.

Applying these two values ($6.5 million per life and $1.2 million per injury) to the 2011 USCG Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) reported propeller injuries and fatalites yields a total cost of (35 fatalities X $6.5 million per fatality) + (192 injuries X $1.2 million per injury) = $227.5 million cost of fatalities + 230.4 cost of injuries = $457.5 million.

Based on the numbers above, in 2011 BARD reported propeller accidents had a total regulatory cost of approximately $450 million.

Many Propeller Accident Victims Accomplish Great Things

While this page dwells on the “costs” of propeller injuries, we would be amiss if we did not point out that several people struck by propellers have gone on to do very inspiring things after their accidents. Some individuals, especially among the youth, are extremely resilient. We salute those who have overcome tremendous challenges after a propeller accident.

Areas of success include once again achieving high levels of performance in sports, delivering inspiring messages, raising funds for prosthetics for children, being involved in boating safety, helping others who have been similarly injured, being good spouses, parents, and citizens.