C. Various Models and Speeds.
The PWC industry is dominated by five different manufacturers: (1) Kawasaki ("Jet Ski"), (2) Yamaha ("WaveRunner"), (3) Bombardier ("Sea Doo"), (4) Polaris, and (5) Honda.
The first personal watercraft model was introduced in Canada in 1968 by Bombardier. Kawasaki later introduced the "jet-ski" in the United States in 1974. The original "jet-ski" model had a 32 horsepower engine and traveled at peak speeds of approximately 30 mph. The personal watercraft model required the user to stand upright, demanding practice and coordination to operate the vessel. Thus, the product was not an immediate success in the U.S. market. Since that time, the number and types of personal watercraft available to the public have grown dramatically.
The current personal watercraft models contain engines with 200 h.p. that can accommodate from one to three riders, and can achieve speeds in excess of 65 mph. In addition, approximately ninety-eight (98%) per cent of all personal watercraft are the sit-down variety in which the operator and passenger(s) are seated on the vessel, instead of standing or kneeling on the product. This design modification significantly reduces the skill and expertise required to operate the vehicles, making the current personal watercraft models more accessible to consumers of all ages and levels of experience.
WHY ARE PWC UNREASONABLY DANGEROUS?
A. Personal Watercraft Statistics.
It is undisputed that PWC are the most dangerous watercraft in existence.
"Although comprising only 2 per cent of the current series, personal watercraft fatalities across the United States have increased dramatically over the past decade, from 5 deaths in 1987 to 57 in 1996. This 1,100% increase is almost certainly related to the marked increase in the number of personal watercraft on the nation's waterways as well as the significantly increased speeds these craft are capable of achieving. Perhaps this explains why personal watercraft operators are injured 8.5 times more often than those operating other motorized watercraft. "
B. Manufacturers Have Over-Promoted The Vessels To Inexperienced And Inadequately Trained Operators.
When evaluating whether a product like a PWC is unreasonably dangerous, the target audience and foreseeable use of the product must be considered. Unfortunately, PWC manufacturers have traditionally focused their massive marketing budgets on the very young and inexperienced. According to the National Transportation Safety Board's 1998 study, the vast majority of PWC operators involved in accidents were between the ages of 12 and 21. Many of these operators viewed the high performance vessel as a "toy." But personal watercraft are not toys, and people must realize that a 12 year-old child is simply not equipped to handle a 135 horsepower vessel traveling at speeds in excess of 65 mph. Nevertheless, legislatures have been slow to enact universal and effective legislation for PWCs.