Our firm recently settled a boating accident case for $3.97 million, the full insurance policy limits. Our client initially worked with two other law firms but after eighteen months, was told by those law firms that they could not help her. In April 2021, she found us. By August 2021, Butler Kahn obtained this policy-limits settlement for the client.
Details about the case follow, although names have been changed.
Boating Accident on Lake Lanier
On September 2, 2019, Ms. Isabelle Florentine, a 32-year-old, active woman, went out to Lake Lanier with some friends.
Because it was Labor Day Weekend, one of Isabelle’s friends rented a pontoon boat for all of the friends to enjoy. That boat was equipped with a waterslide, an on-board generator, and a water pump, among other things. A picture of that boat appears to the right.
Isabelle and her friends enjoyed the boat for most of the evening—going down the slide and swimming around the perimeter of the boat. Isabelle and another friend, Jessica Potter, recall hearing a humming noise while using the slide and swimming near the boat. Out of concern for their safely and fearing the noise was coming from the engine, both Isabelle and Jessica asked about the noise. Isabelle and Jessica were told—more than once—that the noise was coming from the on-board generator and the water pump, which ensured the slide was wet when in use.
Later in the evening, Isabelle and Jessica went back to the top deck of the boat to go down the slide. Jessica remembers that the boat was stopped and, while she heard the same humming noise, she believed the engine was off. Jessica says this was because the boat was not moving, and she and Isabelle were previously told that the humming noise was coming from the on-board generator.
Boating Accident, Propellor Injury, and Amputation of Leg
Because Jessica believed it was safe, Jessica went down the slide. Isabelle followed. Sadly, the operator of the boat—who was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana—turned on the propeller and began to back the boat. Isabelle looked up to see the boat bearing down on her. She could not escape in time. The boat backed over her. The propellor struck her leg. The spinning steel tore into her flesh. It chopped skin, muscle, and bone. When she finally got free Isabelle shouted that she couldn’t feel her leg.
The scene was chaotic. Isabelle’s friends tried to help her. Someone pulled her out of the water. Her femoral artery hand been severed, and she was bleeding profusely. Emergency medical personnel rushed Ms. Florentine to the hospital. The lower part of her left leg was essentially destroyed. The propellor flayed the muscle and skin. The bones inside her leg looked like a disorganized bundle of sticks. Doctors amputated her left leg just below the knee.
Witness Testimony Confirmed that Our Client Did Nothing Wrong
As soon as Butler Kahn got the case, we began talking to witnesses. It was important to move fast because roughly a year and a half had passed since the boating accident. The witnesses confirmed what happened, and BLF was able to obtain affidavit (sworn statements) from multiple witnesses.
Jessica Potter testified by affidavit that, as Isabelle has said, “[t]he boat was not moving when Isabelle and I went down the slide.” Jessica also confirmed that both women believed that the boat’s engine was off when they went down the slide, and that the humming noise appeared to come from the generator that operated the water slide, not the boat’s engine. Another witness, James Irving, also confirmed by affidavit that the boat was not moving when Isabelle went down the slide. He further confirmed that even if the boat’s engine was on when Isabelle and Jessica went down the slide, the sound of the generator that operated the waterslide would have masked the sound because it sounded similar.
The sworn testimony of Jessica and James, combined with Isabelle’s own account, proved that Isabelle did nothing wrong. Isabelle went down the slide because she thought she was safe. With this information, BLF drafted a demand letter and sent it to the insurance companies. They accepted the demand and paid the full policy limits.
Boating Insurance: Eroding Policy & Bumbershoot Policy
As noted above, BLF obtained a policy-limits settlement of $3.97 million for Isabelle. But why did BLF get $3.97 million, and not $4 million?
The boat rental company had three layers of insurance. The first layer (the “liability policy”) was provided by The Hartford, and it covered the first $1 million of the claim. The second layer, which functioned as an excess policy, covered the remaining $3 million of the claim. In the context of boating, excess policies are called “bumbershoot” policies. That bumbershoot policy, however, was broken in half—the first $1.5 million came from one insurer (Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company) and the second $1.5 million came from a second insurer (Liberty Mutual Insurance).
But why did BLF get $3.97 million rather than $4 million? The answer rests with the liability insurance policy. The liability policy was what is called an ‘eroding’ policy. Generally, when an insurance policy covers a claim, the amount of the policy is fixed and attorneys’ fees for defending the claim do not count against that amount. However, with an ‘eroding’ policy, attorneys’ fees are paid out of the policy limits. In other words, the amount of insurance coverage is reduced by the amount of money that the insurance company pays the defense lawyers. So, in this case, the boat rental company spent about $30,000 defending the claim. That means only $3.97 million in insurance coverage remained when BLF obtained the settlement.
Client Happy with Boating Accident Settlement
We’re pleased to report that Isabelle was very happy with our work on the case and the results – but we’ll let her tell you about it. Her words are below.
This case shows why people hurt in boating accidents need a good boating accident lawyer. Isabelle was told by two law firms that they could not help her – after those firms waited for eighteen months. Within three and half months of being hired, BLF obtained a policy-limit settlement for Isabelle in the amount of $3,973,260.00. We’re proud of that.