Judge Sandra McLean did not uphold a good faith settlement between driver Jerry Montz and the plaintiffs representing the two women injured on the lake. Under the agreement, Montz will pay $1.1 million — $1 million coming from an insurance policy — and MasterCraft would have to backfill the driver's $3.3 million portion of economic damages awarded.
MasterCraft can file a lawsuit against Montz for the money, but attorney Tom Nielsen said the company representatives have not decided if they will.
Montz was driving a 24-foot X-45 MasterCraft wakeboarding boat July 9, 2006, on Lake Oroville with 18 other people aboard when the wakeboarder fell. The boat turned and the bow sunk below water, washing Niki Bell and Bethany Mercer, formerly Wallenburg, overboard. The boat's propeller struck the women.
Mercer suffered injuries to her arm, leg and back. Bell had multiple skull fractures, damage to the frontal lobe of her brain and she lost her left eye.
A Butte County Superior Court jury found MasterCraft and Montz at fault for the accident and awarded the two injured women more than $30 million June 7. The verdict was stayed for 60 days so attorneys could file motions.
The case will return to court today on a MasterCraft motion to extend the stay of enforcement of money.
Nielsen said he is pleased with the judge's ruling on the settlement.
"I think it points out some of the issues going on — the cooperation between Montz and the plaintiffs in an attempt to place basically all the responsibility on MasterCraft as a deep pocket," Nielsen said.
Attorney Jerry Duncan representing Montz said he would of course oppose a lawsuit seeking the $3.3 million from his client.
Regarding the judge's decision on the settlement, Duncan said, "I'm not happy with it."
During the trial, plaintiff attorneys argued flaws in the boat design Montz did not know about led to the women's injuries and that MasterCraft did not adequately test the boat.
In court, Duncan admitted his client made a mistake but said MasterCraft should have properly tested the boat's design and given consumers warnings before releasing it to the public.
In response, Nielsen argued the boating company could not have foreseen how Montz and the passengers would use the X-45 and said the driver should be held responsible.
Jurors voted 11-1 that MasterCraft was 80 percent at fault and Montz was 20 percent at fault. They awarded $30.9 million in damages to Bell and $530,688 to Mercer. Nine out of 12 jurors have to agree in a civil case.
MasterCraft filed a motion for a new trial, which the court will address in a hearing Aug. 19.
Company representatives have also not decided whether they plan to file an appeal in the case, Nielsen said.
Staff writer Katy Sweeny can be reached at 896-7760 or firstname.lastname@example.org.