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Company to pay $34 million for boat accident

Last Modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2014 12:33 PM

By Johnathan Manning / American Press

A jury in state district court awarded $23 million in punitive damages to a man whose son was killed in a boating accident on Prien Lake in May 2005.

The jury found that Teleflex, the maker of the boat’s steering system, was negligent and acted with disregard. Teleflex knew from its own testing that problems could arise if even a little bit of hydraulic fluid leaked out, but failed to warn users of the steering system, attorney Bart Bernard said.

In addition to the $23 million, the jury awarded Derek Hebert’s father, Ron Warren, $25,000 in compensation and $100,000 for suffering. An additional $11 million in judicial interest brought the total to more than $34 million, said Bernard, who, along with Randy Hart and Aaron Broussard, represented Warren.

“It’s a victory for the people against big companies, because it tells big companies that they have to warn people about things that can harm people,” Bernard said. “They can’t put profits before people.”

Hebert was a passenger in a 1998 Champion bay boat, driven by Daniel Vamvoras and owned by Glen Vamvoras, when the accident happened on May 7, 2005, according to court filings. The boat had a Teleflex Seastar 2.0 hydraulic steering system installed. The power steering failed, and the boat spun out of control into the path of a 2002 Pathfinder, which it had been traveling with. The Pathfinder was driven by either Logan Gandy or Michael Torres. Hebert was thrown from the boat and suffered fatal injuries.

“Teleflex had a system that if you lose hydraulic fluid — you didn’t have to lose much, you just had to lose a few teaspoons of fluid — and if you did, you could go into what they call a killspin, where the boat would come back around and kill people and that’s exactly what it did,” Bernard said. “They realized that the company knew information for about 15 years or so before this accident and didn’t disclose it to help people and to warn people. They didn’t put safety first.”

The Vamvorases, as well as Bowtie Marina, were among the defendants in the lawsuit, but Judge Kent Savoie removed them before the jury began deliberations when the case first went to trial in September.

“The case was initially tried to a defense verdict in September,” David Frohn, an attorney with Swetman Baxter Massenburg, said in a prepared statement. “We believe that this verdict is unjust, and we hope that the Court will agree.”

In September, a jury ruled in favor of Teleflex, finding that the maker of the steering system wasn’t negligent. Bernard appealed the ruling and won, bringing the case to a second trial.

The September jury questioned whether a manual that said it was revised in 2006 was the same as the original manual that was provided with the boat and steering, according to court filings. The jury was assured that it was the same as the original, although it was later found that the manual had been revised in 2006.

Jury members said they would have sided with Hebert’s family if the manual was revised in 2006, Bernard said in his appeal.


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