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No Punitives for Inner Tube Accident

A Norfolk U.S. District Court dismisses claims for punitive damages filed by a plaintiff who was severely injured when a motorboat operated by the second defendant, Cox, crossed the towline of the inner tube plaintiff was riding on in Currituck Sound, pulled by a boat operated by the first defendant, Norman.

Plaintiff alleges defendant Cox had consumed alcoholic beverages just before and/or during his operation of his motorboat and that defendant Norman knew Cox had consumed alcoholic beverages. Plaintiff also alleges that after Cox’s vessel struck the towline, Cox knew plaintiff had impacted the side of Cox’s boat near the operating propeller, but Cox never slowed his vessel, and then hid himself at his own campsite. Plaintiff alleges Cox was negligent by driving into the towline between the towing vessel and the inner tube on which plaintiff rode, by failing to keep a proper lookout, by failing to avoid the risk of collision, by failing to reduce his speed or stop, by failing to stay clear of a vessel pulling an inner tube, and by endangering plaintiff, thereby injuring him.

Plaintiff’s amended complaint does not allege sufficient facts to withstand a motion to dismiss. He has added new allegations, namely that defendant knew Cox had consumed alcoholic beverages, defendant ignored warnings about Cox from passengers in the motorboat, and defendant did not alter the course or speed of the boat he was operating despite the speed at which Cox was operating his boat nearby. Even if these allegations indicate defendant had knowledge of existing circumstances that could cause injury to another, plaintiff has not demonstrated that defendant, with reckless indifference to the consequences, consciously and intentionally did some wrongful act, or omitted some known duty, which produced the injurious result.

The facts pleaded indicates this is a case of ordinary negligence concerning defendants. As pleaded, the facts do not indicate defendant’s conduct was the most egregious or contained any special motives of aggravation. Punitive damages are a penalty and should only be awarded to deter the most egregious type of conduct. Plaintiff’s request for punitive damages must be denied.

Brown v. Cox (Doumar) No. 2:11cv184, Nov. 8, 2011; USDC at Norfolk, Va. VLW 011-3-609, 7 pp.

VLW 011-3-609

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