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Death On High Seas Act preempts state law regarding liability and damages for shipwreck

Four Vietnamese fishermen took a nineteen-foot open outboard Cobia twenty-seven miles off Savannah’s coast despite a Small Craft Advisory and proceeded to capsize it. Three died. The one non-swimmer survived. Suit was brought against a variety of people and companies, the principal one being the Yamaha-owned Cobia Boat Company, which built the vessel. Numerous product defects were asserted. An interlocutory appeal established favorable Death On High Seas Act substantive law regarding both liability and damages applied, so as to bar conscious pain and suffering, strict liability and punitive damages and to limit overall damages. The resulting two-week, trimmed-down jury trial involved naval architects, meteorologists, oceanographers and mariners to speak to complex liability issues. The trial resulted in very modest verdicts (one tenth of last demand) due to the application of “pure comparative negligence” provided for in the Death On High Seas Act, which almost guarantees a plaintiffs’ “win,” in some amount.

Phuoc Thi Kim Vo, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Lien Tran v. Yamaha Motor Corporation USA and C&C Manufacturing, Inc., State Court of Houston County Civil Action No. 2007-V-38575; Date of Result: September 29, 2008.

Tin Vo, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Hong Quy Vo v. Yamaha Motor Corporation USA and C&C Manufacturing, Inc., State Court of Houston County Civil Action No. 2007-V-38576; Date of Result: September 29, 2008.

Vo v. Yamaha Golf Car Co., A04A0110, A04A0111, Court of Appeals of Georgia, 267 Ga.App. 742; 600 S.E.2d 594; 2004 Ga.App. LEXIS 574; 2004 Fulton County D. Rep. 1573; 2005 AMC 1315, April 28, 2004, Decided., Reconsideration denied June 10, 2004 – Cert. applied for. Writ of Certiorari denied Vo v. Yamaha Golf Car Co., 2004 Ga. LEXIS 663 (Ga., Sept. 7, 2004)

Counsel for Defendant: Stephen L. Cotter and Maren R. Cave
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