|SPRIETSMA V MERCURY MARINE
The Federal Safe Boating
Act gives authority to the U.S. Coast Guard to standardize and regulate boats and the
associated equipment. No other entity, such as the states, can pre-empt this federal
authority. To date the Coast Guard has no regulation in place. For years, every court case
based on harmful and dangerous equipment, i.e. exposed propeller, has been ruled in favor
of the marine industry in the absence of Coast Guard regulation. It was as if the failure
to regulate was an implied regulation.
In the 3 December 2002 decision, the Supreme Court over ruled the concept of federal
pre-emption . The decision allows for claimants to petition and to seek redress for loss
of life and limb under state common law. This is particularly beneficial where states have
strong consumer protection and liability laws in place.
To date, it is our understanding that Mercury Marine is challenged in fifteen court
rooms around the United States. The Sprietsma trial is pending in the Illinois courts as
Consequent to this ruling, the Coast Guard has made considerable effort to urge marine
manufacturers to provide equipment solutions to prevent propeller strikes. A Notice of
Proposed Rule Making # 10163 ( www.dms.gov ) is pending.
Our position since SPIN 's inception was that industry should and could solve the
problem, instead of being the problem. It was in their interests to do this before court
awards so punished the industry that they are put out of business. We did not want to see
the pockets of the few engorged at the expense of research and development. Big litigious
awards will not bring back the dead nor rebuild the amputee. But apparently, it is the
only thing that the marine industry understands.
If you want to learn more about this case, we refer you to:
the syllabus and Unanimous Opinion
For a layman's view of the rule and decision of technology
www.boat/us For an article by Elaine Dickinson AHigh
Court re-powers debate.@ No 2, Vol 8, page 36