Maritime Law for Boating Accidents -  Negligence or Product Liability
Legal Theories Applied in Admiralty Jurisdiction for Recreational Vessels - Contributory Negligence - Foreseeability
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Read the full decision on this boating accident case, McGarrigle v. Mercury Marine
fell off is going around you in smaller and smaller circles, churning water it inches ever
closer. A pleasure boater in New Jersey experienced such a nightmare while out on
an outboard vessel. In attempting to get back aboard, he tried to grab the moving boat
and was struck by the spinning propeller. He was injured when the spinning propeller
cut him in the neck and face. The matter wound up in federal court when the boater
filed claims for his injuries. This opened the door to the interpretation of legal theories
involving product liability law. While many boating accidents are litigated under the
theory of negligence, the issue in this case became one of a determination of whether
a product was defective. Under product liability law, a claimant generally alleges a
product, here the outboard engine, was defective in some manner. This means
arguing the engine was defectively manufactured, defectively designed, or that it came
with inadequate warnings as to its use

The legal proceedings opened the door to discussions about a kill switch lanyard.
A kill switch is something we commonly see in small outboards and personal
watercraft. The idea is to stop, or kill the engine in the event someone goes into the
drink. This is accomplished by a lanyard that gets yanked off the engine controls when
the operator is jettisoned overboard. The operating manual for the 15 horsepower
outboard involved in this accident did address the importance of a kill switch lanyard.
The claimant and his father had not read the manual. However, the claimant's case
argued that the engine had not come with a lanyard, and that the manufacturer had not
provided adequate warnings. In response, the outboard manufacturer argued the
claimant contributed to his injuries by choosing to operate the small boat at high
speed in choppy water, as well as attempting to climb back aboard while it was
moving. Now the court had to decide whether it was foreseeable for a boat operator
not to read their owner's manual. Ultimately, the court did decide in the plaintiff's favor
on that issue of foreseeability.