LITIGATION DEPARTMENT OF THE YEAR - Mid-Size Firm  ALM's Daily Report   2017 - 2016 - 2014

Kevin Williams Receives Defense Verdict in Houseboat Suit

Atlanta

Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial partner, Kevin Williams, received a defense verdict for his client in a case stemming from a May 2000 death on a houseboat in Georgia. The victim allegedly died from a drowning caused by disorientation due to carbon monoxide (“CO”) poisoning. Testing revealed the deceased had a CO level of 22% in his blood, which was reported as a toxic level.

The Estate of the deceased, Joel D. Martin, filed a product liability suit against Sumerset Custom Houseboats, Inc. in the U.S. District Court - Middle District of Georgia claiming that the product was defectively designed because the engine placement allowed for CO to accumulate under the rear of the boat and that there were inadequate safety warnings from the manufacturer about the dangers of CO.

Mr. Martin drowned as he was trying to remove the boat’s anchor that had become stuck under water. It was not until the plaintiff viewed a segment by “48 Hours” on CO in houseboats that they chose to file suit. This "48 Hours" show documented the dangers of CO on houseboats and was called, “The Silent Killer.” The plaintiff’s attorneys, Boone & Stone, alleged that the CO that had accumulated in Mr. Martin’s body caused him to become disoriented under water thus leading to his drowning. The defense, lead by Kevin Williams of WWHGD, asserted that the boat had been used for a year before the drowning and a year after without an incident. There were opposing experts for both sides on the defect issue and the effect of 22% CO in the blood.

The jury reached a defense verdict in 20 minutes after a two-and-a-half week trial. The plaintiffs demand before trial was $2.3 million and they rejected a $300,000 settlement offer.

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