Court Says Boat Company Can Sue Parts Makers for Liability in Defective Products Case – Fish Tale Sales & Services, Inc. v. Nice

Defective products can cause harm in a wide variety of scenarios, including on boats. When an accident happens because of a defective product, a number of complicated issues arise as to how the accident happened and who is responsible for it. In Fish Tale Sales & Services, Inc. v. Nice, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explains one of these issues: indemnity.

William Nice and Maria Condeiro-Nice filed a Florida personal injury suit against Fish Tale Sales & Services, Chaparral Boats, Inc., Federal-Mogul Corporation and Volvo Penta of Americas, Inc., claiming that they were injured in a flash explosion on their twenty-four-foot Chaparral boat. Chaparral built the boat, which was equipped with an engine manufactured by Volvo and a fuel pump manufactured by Federal-Mogul. Fish Tale sold the boat to the Nices and later performed maintenance on it.

The Nices claimed that the explosion resulted from a leak in the boat’s fuel pump. In a complaint, they further alleged that Fish Tale was negligent in failing to properly service, inspect and repair the boat and failing to warn the Nices about the problem with the fuel pump. In similar claims against Chaparral, Federal-Mogul and Volvo, the Nices alleged that these companies were negligent in their design and manufacture of the boat and the fuel pump in particular. During the discovery process, however, the Nices dropped their claims against all defendants except Fish Tale.

Fish Tale later filed a third-party complaint against the other previous defendants, arguing that any liability by the company would be a result of the other defendants’ negligence in designing and manufacturing the boat. A trial court denied the company’s motion to file the third-party complaint. According to the court, the proper procedure was for Fish Tale to sue the other companies in a separate suit if and when Fish Tale was ultimately found liable.

The Second District reversed the decision on appeal. “Unless Fish Tail is permitted to implead the third parties potentially responsible for the Nices’ injuries, it may be exposed to an inconsistent outcome in any independent action against those parties,” the court said. In other words, if the other companies were not joined as parties in this particular case, the court explained that they would not be bound by the jury’s findings. Should the jury conclude that the accident was caused by the fuel pump, for example, this decision would not carry over into a later lawsuit by Fish Tale against the other companies.

Although indemnity – the legal theory under which one party claims that another is responsible for covering the first party’s legal liability in a particular matter – is limited under Florida maritime law, the court nevertheless found that Fish Tale stated a viable claim in its third-party complaint. “The third-party complaint alleges that Fish Tale is a nonnegligent tortfeasor who may be held strictly liable for a defective product manufactured by the third-party defendants,” the court explained.

As this case shows, complicated legal issues often arise in a Florida defective products case. A defective product can be anything a consumer purchases (automobile parts, medications, children’s toys, child safety seats, etc.) that isn’t safe for its intended use. At Anidjar & Levine, our South Florida defective products lawyers stand ready to help those injured by unsafe products. Call our Fort Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Defective Product Recalls and Florida Personal Injury Law

Duty to Warn in Florida Products Liability Cases – Farias v. Mr. Heater

Florida Court Allows Products Liability Case to Proceed without the Product – Murray v. Traxxas Corp.