Polaris to appeal liability judgment in 2008 PWC case

Publish Date: 
Jul 30, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Polaris Industries Inc. is waiting for a judgment in a California liability case, and says it plans to appeal a jury verdict that found the company partially liable for a PWC crash that severely injured a young woman.

A Los Angeles County jury on July 23 returned an unfavorable verdict against Polaris in Fabiola Esparza v. Polaris Industries Inc. The lawsuit arose out of a collision between a boat and a 2001 Polaris Virage PWC that happened on July 4, 2008, on the Colorado River.

The accident happened when the driver of a 2004 Sea-Doo Utopia jet boat, towing his three grandchildren in an inflatable device tied behind, turned in front of the Virage driven by Andrew Gutierrez, then 17. An attorney for Esparza, who was a passenger on the Virage, said he was unable to turn the vehicle when he throttled down. Esparza, who was 15 at the time of the accident, suffered injuries her lawyers say will require to have lifetime care.

The driver of the other boat subsequently pleaded guilty to three felony counts of driving under the influence of alcohol and causing injury. The jury returned a verdict finding that the accident was caused by multiple actions: the majority was attributed to the negligence of the other boat driver, with the balance attributed to the reckless behavior of the driver of the Virage and the design of the Virage.

Although the jury found the Virage was defective, the panel also concluded that Polaris was not negligent in designing the Virage and in deciding against retrofitting the crafts with an off-throttle steering system.

“The jury awarded approximately $21 million in damages. Although Polaris cannot determine its potential liability with certainty because the judgment has not yet been entered, Polaris estimates its maximum potential liability in this case is $11 million of the total damages,” the OEM stated. The company anticipates taking a $4 million loss in its third financial quarter for costs related to the case.

“While our hearts go out to the plaintiff and her family, Polaris disagrees with the jury’s finding and believes the evidence clearly demonstrated that the Virage was a safe vessel and the crash was caused by a combination of too much speed, too much alcohol, and reckless driving,” the company stated.

Polaris stopped making personal watercraft in 2004.

Posted by Holly Wagner