NC jury awards $5.75 million for leg lost in watercraft accident

In late August 2013, after a three-week civil trial in the North Carolina Superior Court in Mecklenburg, the jury awarded almost $6 million in legal damages to a man who had to have his leg amputated in 2007 after the collision of two personal watercraft on giant Lake Norman.

According to news reports, plaintiff Howard Hazlett was 45 at the time of the boat accident and on a Memorial Day vacation from his home in New York. He and an acquaintance, Frederick Gibb, were visiting the lake home of Royce Syracuse. Hazlett and Royce were out on two of Syracuse's personal watercraft one afternoon when they collided, sending both to the hospital with leg injuries. However, Hazlett's leg needed amputation.

Reportedly, neither had been drinking alcohol, but Hazlett later filed his lawsuit against Gibb alleging negligence in the accident, and against his host Syracuse for "negligent entrustment" of the watercraft to Gibb. Gibb filed a counterclaim against Hazlett.

The jury found that neither Hazlett nor Syracuse was responsible, but that Gibb was negligent and liable to Hazlett for $5.75 million in damages, including interest. Ironically, Hazlett's attorney had asked for only $3.12 million. North Carolina Lawyers Weekly reported speaking with the plaintiff's personal injury attorney, who said the highest settlement offer from the insurer of the watercraft had been $350,000. The plaintiff had been willing to settle for $550,000.

PWC safety

Driving a personal watercraft negligently or recklessly can cause injury, property damage and loss of life. All operators must follow applicable federal, state and local laws designed to keep everyone on the water and the environment safe. Some of the safety tips from the Personal Watercraft Industry Association include:

  • Stay at a safe speed.
  • Keep a safe distance from other PWC, vessels, people and objects.
  • Be alert and scan your surroundings for danger.
  • Avoid sharp turning, and fancy or aggressive maneuvering.
  • Do not operate a PWC in shallow areas.
  • Take a PWC safety course.
  • Do not exceed the maximum load.
  • Get regular maintenance and check all systems before boating, including throttle, switches, cables, battery and fuel lines, and steering controls.
  • Wear a personal floatation device and protective clothing.
  • Respect rights of way and marked dangers on the water.
  • And more.

Find an experienced boating accident lawyer

Anyone injured in a North Carolina personal watercraft or other boating accident should speak with a skilled personal injury attorney about his or her legal remedies and potentially responsible parties, including other boaters, equipment manufacturers, maintenance and service providers, property owners and more.

Money damages from a responsible party can help cover medical costs, medical equipment, lost wages, rehabilitation, therapy, accommodations and more.

Tragically, sometimes boating crashes result in fatality and anyone who lost a loved one or family member in a North Carolina boating incident should speak with a knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer about possible legal action.