Hickerson v. Yamaha (Part 2)

On December 6, a three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the Deborah Meek Hickerson v. Yamaha Motor Company, Ltd. and Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.  matter. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, Judge G. Steven Agee and Judge Henry F. Floyd presided over the proceeding.

Fortunately (but unfortunately not surprisingly), the Court was (for the first time) made aware of adverse authority during oral arguments. The case, McRee v. Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. 2017 WL 5201525 (D.S.C. Nov. 9, 2017) — adverse to Defendant/Appellee Yamaha — had not been mentioned in Yamaha’s briefing to the Court (in dereliction of a party’s duty to bring adverse authority to a court’s attention).

Counsel for Hickerson brought this breach of duty (on the part of Yamaha) to the Court’s attention during the time allotted for oral argument to be made on behalf of Appellant Hickerson (@ 39:00). At the request of Judge Motz, counsel for Hickerson filed a supplemental authority on December 8, 2016.


Based on the timeline between oral arguments and the Court’s rulings in past cases, the Hickerson v. Yamaha ruling will likely be issued sometime in February.

Stay tuned…

Hickerson v. Yamaha

Without regard for truth or justice, and through a deliberate distortion of the law, defense lawyers for product manufacturers have successfully hijacked the current state of product liability law in South Carolina. Oral arguments in the Hickerson v. Yamaha case are set for December 6, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia. Links to briefing below:

Appellant Hickerson’s Brief

Appellee Yamaha’s Response Brief

Appellant Hickerson’s Reply Brief

Will the Fourth Circuit put a stop to this nonsense? Stay tuned.

12 Year Old Sustains Severe PWC Orifice Injuries

On August 19, 2015, 12 year old Lexis L. of Little Falls, New York sustained severe perianal lacerations when she fell off the back of personal watercraft and landed in the path of the jet thrust from the PWC’s jet propulsion system. Her father was operating the 1994 Polaris SL 650 at the time of the incident, which occurred on Hinckley Reservoir in Hinckley, New York.

Mazzola Law Firm will be handling this matter in collaboration with Baker & Zimmerman, PA.

Those interested in following this matter (or any matter referenced on this website) can check back for blog updates documenting case developments or simply subscribe to the RSS feed.

Another Florida Woman Sustains Severe PWC Orifice Injuries 

Mazzola Law Firm and Baker Zimmerman will soon be filing another PWC orifice injury lawsuit against Yamaha Motor Corp in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The suit will be filed on behalf of a 27 year old Orlando resident that sustained severe rectal and perineal injuries upon falling off the back of a 2016 Yamaha Waverunner. Further details forthcoming. 

Florida PWC Orifice Injury Case Filed

On May 26, 2017, Mazzola Law Firm, in collaboration with Baker and Zimmerman, P.A., filed the matter of Ravazzani v. Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA in the District Court for Miami-Dade County, Florida. For those interested, the following press release includes more details about the case as well as a link to the complaint:




Woman Suffers Severe Orifice Injuries from Waverunner Jet Thrust

On June 14, 2016, 29 year old Clara Ravazzani sustained massive, internal orifice injuries when she fell off the back of a Yamaha Waverunner and came into contact with the jet thrust from the watercraft’s jet propulsion system. At the time of the incident, Ravazzani was riding behind her boyfriend Pete Rosa’s daughter, on a 3-seater waverunner that Rosa was driving.

Ravazzani’s injuries required the surgical implantation of a colostomy bag and were so severe that she nearly succumbed due to blood loss. Without Rosa’s quick intervention and insistence that she be life-flighted to Miami’s Ryder Trauma Center, Ravazzani’s injuries would likely have proved fatal.  The incident occurred in northern Biscayne Bay, near Boca Chita Key. 

Clara Ravazzani is being represented by the Mazzola Law Firm, PLLC.

Those interested in following the Ravazzani v. Yamaha matter (or any matter referenced on this website) can check back for blog updates documenting case developments or simply subscribe to the RSS feed.

22-Year-Old Pelican Rapids, Minnesota Resident Sustains Severe PWC Orifice Injuries

On August 30, 2016, 22 year old Cat Grefsrud of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota sustained massive, internal orifice injuries when she fell off the back of a Kawasaki Jet Ski. The accident happened shortly after she and two friends decided to go for a jet ski ride on Lake Lizzie near her home. Like too many others, Ms. Grefsrud’s injuries required life-saving surgical intervention and the implantation of a colostomy bag.

Ms. Grefsrud is being represented by the Mazzola Law Firm, PLLC.

Those interested in following the Grefsrud v. Kawasaki matter (or any matter referenced on this website) can check back for blog updates documenting case developments or simply subscribe to the RSS feed.

Ohio Woman Suffers Severe PWC Orifice Injuries

On September 12, 2016, 24 year old Holly Hutton of Kirtland, Ohio sustained massive, internal orifice injuries when she fell off the back of a 2016 Yamaha Waverunner. She and her boyfriend had rented the waverunner only moments prior to her being rushed to a nearby emergency room for life-saving surgical intervention. The accident happened in the northern Outer Banks near Duck, North Carolina.

Ms. Hutton is being represented by the Mazzola Law Firm, PLLC.

Those interested in following the Hutton v. Yamaha Motor Corporation matter (or any matter referenced on this website) can check back for blog updates documenting case developments or simply subscribe to the RSS feed.

Passenger Seat Deadman Switch?


In an article from the Journal of Forensic Sciences 58(1) · August 2012, titled Forensic Epidemiologic and Biomechanical Analysis of a Pelvic Cavity Blowout Injury Associated with Ejection from a Personal Watercraft (Jet-Ski), the authors begin with a summary of the PWC propulsion system and the biomechanical analysis of the injury mechanism for (what they refer to as) “anovaginal ‘blowout’ injuries”. They write as follows:

“Jet-propelled personal watercraft (PWC) or jet-skis have become increasingly popular. The means of propulsion of PWC, which is a jet of water forced out of small nozzle at the rear of the craft, combined with a high risk of falling off of the seat and into close proximity with the water jet stream, raise the potential for a unique type of injury mechanism. The most serious injuries associated with PWC falls are those that occur when the perineum passes in close proximity to the jet nozzle and the high-pressure water stream enters the vaginal or rectal orifice. We describe the forensic investigation into a case of an anovaginal ‘blowout’ injury in a passenger who was ejected from the rear seat position of a PWC and subsequently suffered life-threatening injuries to the pelvic organs. The investigation included a biomechanical analysis of the injury mechanism, a summary of prior published reports of internal pelvic injuries resulting from PWC falls as well as other water sports and activities, and a comparison of the severity of the injuries resulting from differing mechanisms using the New Injury Severity Score (NISS). The mean (±standard deviation [SD]) NISS values for reported PWC injuries [not including the NISS of 38 in this case study] were 11.2 (±9.5), while the mean value for reported water-skiing falls was half that of the PWC group at 5.6 (±5.2). It was concluded that the analyzed injuries were unique to a PWC ejection versus other previously described non-PWC-associated water sport injuries. It is recommended that PWC manufacturers help consumers understand the potential risks to passengers with highly visible warnings and reduce injury risk with revised seat design, and/or passenger seat ‘deadman’ switches.”

While revising the seat design is certainly among the viable options PWC manufacturers have at their disposal for eliminating internal orifice injuries, it would seem as though the same cannot be said of passenger seat deadman switches. Indeed, in order for a passenger seat deadman switch to be a viable option, there would have to be some mechanism in place that allowed the driver to retain control over the direction of the watercraft despite the engine being shut down due to passenger ejection.

Off-Throttle/Off-Power Steering Systems

Once a bold new idea, off-throttle steering systems have become commonplace in today’s personal watercraft. Originally conceived as a solution to the loss of steering control when thrust stops flowing through the pump — such as when a panicked rider releases the throttle and attempts to make an abrupt turn to avoid an object in their path — OTS systems began to appear across all major PWC manufacturer’s lines around 2003.

The motivation behind their appearance can be traced to calls from the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board for a solution to a PWC’s lack of directional control once thrust was removed (as well as the extensive nationwide litigation that resulted therefrom). Those calls were spurred by a 1998 NTSB study that found most PWC fatalities were not the result of drowning, but instead blunt force trauma — the type of accident that results from a collision with another boater or fixed object. As PWC essentially lost most directional control once a driver released the throttle, manufacturers agreed to work on a solution that would return some minimal level of control to the driver and help avoid a collision.

The inclusion of OTS into most craft is relatively seamless. The system works by detecting two coinciding occurrences, the abrupt release of the throttle and a full turn to port or starboard. Electronic sensors note the two situations, and respond by increasing RPM just enough to once again push some water through the jet nozzle. That small blast of propulsion is just enough to start the craft turning in the direction the driver has turned the handlebars, hopefully allowing the craft to begin an evasive maneuver and avoid the object in the craft’s path. Kawasaki, Sea-Doo and Yamaha all continue to use off-throttle steering (OTS) systems.

Unlike off-throttle steering systems (whereby the throttle is un-engaged but the engine is still on), off-power steering is — well, just what it sounds like — steering without power. Off-Power Assisted Steering (O.P.A.S.), as that term was coined by Bombardier, involves the use of mechanical rudders, located at the aft portion of the hull, which were tucked out of the way during normal operation, but dropped down into the water when throttle was released. Water pressure siphoned off the pump kept them in the retracted position underway; when that pressure was removed, the rudders dropped into the water. A linkage to the steering nozzle allowed them to pivot in conjunction with the handlebars, providing directional control much like a sterndrive or outboard engine’s skeg. The primary advantage touted by Bombardier was obvious — the system would work even should the engine stall or the driver accidentally pull the lanyard. The craft did not have to be under power for the system to respond. To my knowledge, Sea-Doo is the only PWC that has ever been offered with off-power assisted steering.

Bottom Line

While all personal watercraft come standard with a deadman switch for the driver (in the form of a safety lanyard), to date, not a single make or model of PWC has been manufactured to include a deadman switch for passengers. Frankly, I’m not convinced a passenger kill switch is even a workable option. At least based on the current state of technology…