A Bay Area appeals court recently decided a case involving a boating accident.
The lawsuit was brought by Jeff Koopen, who was seriously injured as a passenger in a motorboat that hit a small, low-lying island. The boat was driven by Rick Aberle, who was found negligent after a jury trial.
A jury determined that Aberle was 35 percent responsible for the accident. Koopen was determined to be 10 percent responsible and his friend Collin Troia was found 55 percent responsible.
The accident happened during a weekend trip that Koopen, Aberle and several friends took to New Melones Lake. The friends rented a houseboat at the Calaveras County reservoir in September 2005 and used motorboats to pilot about 25 guests to the houseboat on a Friday evening.
Koopen, Aberle, Collin Troia and several others got onto a boat around 9:30 p.m. to fetch the past group of guests.
The water level in the lake was pretty low that weekend, and the motorboat ultimately hit a low unlighted island. Troia and Koopen were ejected from the boat and Koopen suffered serious personal injuries.
Evidence presented at trial indicated that Troia, Koopen and Aberle had been drinking that evening. Aberle also had trace amounts of marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.
In appeal of the jury’s verdict, Koopen objected to the trial court’s striking of the evidence of Aberle’s marijuana use. The trial court found that the evidence of Aberle’s marijuana consumption was only relevant to the extent that it impacted his judgment reaction and motor control when he was driving the boat.
The trial court instructed the jury not to consider the mood-altering effects of the marijuana. Ambiguity concerning when and how much marijuana Aberle smoked, and the lack of expert testimony regarding the impact of marijuana consumption supported the trial court’s decision to prevent the jury from speculating on the impact of Aberle’s marijuana consumption.
Koopen also appealed the decision of the jury to assign him partial liability for the crash. Although Aberle was piloting the boat at the time of the crash, the jury found that Koopen was partially liable for the crash because he was the first driver of the motorboat (which belonged to Troia.)
Specifically, the boat lacked spotlights, which may have contributed to the crash, and Koopen’s initial driving of the boat supported the inference that he was involved with the decision to use a boat without spotlights.
Case: Koopen v. Aberle, 2014 WL 795662, Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1, California. February 28, 2014
The Dolan Law Firm handles personal injury cases in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. If you or a loved one has been injured in a traffic accident, call us at 888-452-4752.