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Jet Ski Maker Accused of Cover-Up

by Claran McEvoy
Daily Journal Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES — The explosion of a Sea-Doo jet ski two years ago in Lake Havasu is at the center of a lawsuit alleging that the popular watercraft manufacturer hid defects that it should have known could result in an accident.

The plaintiffs allege that Sea-Doo’s manufacturer ignored, and later concealed from the public and federal officials, evidence of cracks in its vehicles’ fuel tank systems’ filler necks. They claim four explosions have taken place after raw fuel or vapor entered the engine compartments as a result of the problems.

“We’re looking forward to the trial in this case to expose what they’ve done,” said Brian J. Panish of Panish, Shea & Boyle in Los Angeles, who represents Carlos Orlando Fandino, a Castaic man who was severely injured when his 1996 Sea-Doo GSX exploded.

Defense lawyers have argued the Lake Havasu explosion was an isolated incident and that the Canadian manufacturer, Bombardier, “was exemplary in its adherence to… safety procedures.” Fandino v. Bombardier Inc., BC413322.

Out of the 242,592 personal watercraft registered with Bombardier with Fuel Tank System 291, only two [other] lawsuits have ever been brought asserting that Fuel Tank System 291 had a defective filler neck,” William O. “Skip” Martin Jr. of Haight Brown & Bonesteel in Los Angeles, one of Bombardier’s attorneys wrote in court papers.

“In both actions, examination and testing of the filler neck and fuel tank revealed no evidence of cracking,” he wrote.

The company has issued three recalls to replace faulty fuel tanks in different jet ski models since 1997 – but not the model Fandino was using.

Fandino suffered serious injuries when he was thrown 20 feet in the air on Aug. 8, 2008 after the watercraft exploded, according to the lawsuit. The explosion also injured Fandino’s sister, Kaylie, and her friend, who was struck in the face and head by debris, among other bystanders, court papers state. One of the victims lost an eye and others suffered burns and brain injuries, Panish said.

Panish – along with attorneys Adam K. Shea and Deborah S. Chang – accused Bombardier of “engaging in a carefully concerted campaign to deliberately hide and conceal these known defects and the risk of explosions from the public, the government and known owners and users of Sea-Doo personal watercraft with defective fuel tanks.”

Martin said he was unable to obtain permission from his client to comment before deadline for this article.

But in court papers, Bombardier argued that what happened to Fandino was a freak occurrence.

Bombardier wrote that Fandino has made “repeated conclusory allegations that Bombardier knew of a dangerous propensity of the watercraft to cause fires.”

“The actual evidence fails to support those accusations,” Martin stated.

The lawsuit alleges product liability, negligence, breach of warranties and negligent infliction of emotional distress. It seeks $100,000 in general damages, plus unspecified punitive damages.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Conrad R. Aragon is assigned to the case. Trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 19.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys accused Bombardier of changing the manufacturing process for Sea-Doo fuel tanks, using a more cost efficient method once its popularity began to take off. But the method resulted in cracked fuel tanks, leaving the vehicles vulnerable to raw fuel or vapor leakages, according to the complaint. The cracking problem in the fuel tank area is close to an ignition source could lead to an explosion or fire, plaintiffs claim in court papers.

They also claim the company has been aware of fuel tank problems since 1993.

The plaintiffs alleged that Wedco Moulded Products – a Canadian company that manufactures the fuel tanks – attempted to inform Bombardier of many potential problems with its fuel tanks and fuel systems. Bombardier allegedly did not accept Wedco’s analysis or recommendations to fix the defect.

Bombardier has a long-running $30 million lawsuit in Canada against Wedco, alleging faulty manufacturing.

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