Two Women Win $1.7M Verdict in Boat Explosion

Two women who were seriously injured when a boat exploded in the Hudson River three years ago have won a $1.7-million verdict against the boat owner, manufacturer, and dealer.

In its verdict, which was returned Thursday in Superior Court in Bergen County, the jury found that negligence caused the explosion, said Hackensack attorney E. Carter Corriston.

Corriston's client, a 24-year-old Plaintiff of Englewood Cliffs, was awarded $960,000.

Another boat passenger, a 26-year-old Plaintiff of Fort Lee, was awarded $755,000, and her husband, was granted $10,500 by the jury.

Their lawyer, Nicholas Gigante of Fort Lee, could not be reached for comment.

The incident occurred Aug. 26, 1984, when the two joined the PLAINTIFF'S boyfriend, of Fort Lee, on a ride in his recently purchased motorboat. As the 24-foot Chris Craft was being launched into the river from a ramp at the Ross Dock near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, it burst into flames.

Plaintiff's description

At the time of the accident, the Plaintiff told reporters: "He turned the key, and it went boom."

The PLAINTIFF suffered a fractured jaw in three places and continues to require dental treatment. the Plaintiff suffered a fractured vertebra and a severed nerve in her left foot.

Corriston said the jury found that the explosion was caused by a broken gas hose that caused gasoline to spill into the bilge of the boat and ignite when the boat was being started.

During the 13-day trial before Superior Court Judge Isabel Stark, the panel determined that boat manufacturer Murray Chris Craft of Florida was 50 percent responsible for the incident, boat dealer Wilson's Marineland of Fort Lee was 31 percent responsible, and boat owner Dominguez was 19 percent responsible.

The jury ruled that Mercury Marine, the engine manufacturer represented by Ho-Ho-Kus attorney Anthony Amabile, was not liable.

Many of the lawyers involved expressed disbelief at the awards, which they said were unusually high.

"I never doubted that the these people were injured, but I'm extremely surprised at the generosity of the jury," said Dominguez's lawyer, Roger C. Wilson of West Orange.

"The amount of damages awarded is disproportionate to all of the proofs," said Roseland attorney George J. Kenny, who represented Murray Chris Craft. "It's shocking."

What the jury found

The eight-member jury found that:

  • Dominguez, the boat owner, was negligent because he did not follow proper procedures for starting the boat and failed to notice the fuel spill.
  • Wilson’s Marineland was liable because its employees did faulty repair work when they failed to properly secure the gas hose after working on the engine, said Sea Girt attorney Thomas D. Monte Jr.
  • Murray Chris Craft was negligent for several reasons, including the company’s failure to use an anti-siphon valve which prevents gasoline from flowing from the fuel tank into the bilge if the gas hose is disconnected.
  • Chris Craft attorney Kenny said, however, that the valve is not required and that research indicates that those manufacturers who use such a device find that boat owners remove it because it interferes with engine power.
  • He said Chris Craft boats comply with U.S. Coast Guard regulations and that the accident was very unusual.

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This article is reprinted with permission from the December 20, 1987 issue of the Record