Pontoon Boats and Finger Amputations
Did you know that Pontoon Boats manufactured between 2000 and 2005 have a defective gate assembly?
The gate assemblies on these boats have a hidden defect in the form of “pinch points” that have a well-documented history of causing gruesome amputations on boat occupants when an errant finger becomes entrapped in the crevice between the door and the gate. This occurs most frequently as an occupant jumps from a boat into the water. The victims of these incidents are entirely unaware of the danger posed by the gate assembly defect until it is too late. The design of the pontoon boat gate assemblies is such that the railing and the gate curve downward until they intersect at the door hinge. This curved design results in a pinch point where fingers can easily get trapped. The earlier models had no safeguard, as shown in the first picture.
Some pontoon boat manufacturers have recognized the hazard posed by the defective gate assembly, and to counter it they initially came up with a “ball guard” in an attempt to fill the gap where the pinch point is located, as shown here:
The issue with the design of the ball guard is that it is effective to fill the gap when the gate is closed, but the ball guard itself is only attached to the railing or the gate, so once the gate is opened, the ball guard moves out of the way and the gap that creates the pinch point remains a hazard. At the time when the guard is most needed, it is not effective.
Taking into account the shortcoming of the ball guard design, a new style of the guard was introduced – one that actually guards the pinch point when the gate is opened or closed. This device is called a “double-block guard.”
We recently had a case where a young lady was enjoying a day on the water with her family in a pontoon boat on a local waterway when she experienced a traumatic amputation of a finger due to the defective gate assembly that mirrors the situation mentioned above. Our client, without any knowledge of the hidden defect, jumped from the deck of the pontoon boat into the water with her finger naturally trailing the contours of the gate assembly as she exited the craft.
Because the amputation resulted from an avulsion, which means that the finger was “pulled” or “ripped” from the hand (rather than sliced or cut), the digit could not be successfully re-attached.
Manufacturers of pontoon boats have a duty to use ordinary care to design, test, analyze and inspect its product. However, many of the manufacturers of pontoon boats with this dangerous and hidden defect have filed for bankruptcy and thus it is sometimes impossible for consumers who are injured by their products to hold them responsible. Hence the reality for users who lose fingers due to this hidden and severely dangerous defect is that the sellers of the boat are often the only viable defendant. (Lessors who rent these types of boats may also be liable). In strict liability jurisdictions, such as Florida, retailers and sellers are “strictly liable” for injuries arising from the sale of a defective product. However, in many jurisdictions, the injured boater may be required to sue the retailer or seller under a “negligence” theory, which is more difficult. Injured users can also bring claims against retailers and sellers of the defective product under a theory of implied warranty.
If you suffer a finger amputation due to this type of hidden defect, it is imperative that you obtain information about the boat, including when and where it was sold, and seek legal advice immediately. Your remedies will vary from state to state and you may also face a Statute of Limitations or Statute of Repose issue which could bar your claim.
If you live in Florida or Georgia and this has happened to you or a Family member please contact an Attorney at Edwards & Ragatz, P.A. immediately.