Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine

RESPONDENT:Mercury Marine
LOCATION:United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 01-706
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Illinois

CITATION: 537 US 51 (2002)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 2002
DECIDED: Dec 03, 2002

Leslie A. Brueckner – on behalf of the Petitioner
Malcolm L. Stewart – on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioner
Stephen M. Shapiro – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Rex Sprietsma’s wife was killed in a boating accident when she was struck by the propeller of a motor made by Mercury Marine. Sprietsma sued Mercury Marine under Illinois common law, alleging that his wife’s injuries were caused by an unreasonably dangerous motor. The trial court, the intermediate court, and the Illinois Supreme Court all dismissed the complaint, finding the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 (FBSA) preempted such state common-law claims.


Does the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 preempt state common-law claims related to propeller safety?

Media for Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 15, 2002 in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 03, 2002 in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine

John Paul Stevens:

I have the opinion to announce in No. 01-706, Sprietsma against The Brunswick Corporation, a case that comes to us from the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Petitioner’s wife suffered fatal injuries when she fell off a motorboat and was struck by its propeller.

Petitioner brought a state law tort suit against respondent, the manufacturer of the motorboat alleging that it had manufactured an unreasonably dangerous product, because, among other things, the motor was not protected by a propeller guard.

The State Court’s held that the action was preempted by the Federal Boat Safety Act, a statute enacted by Congress in 1971 to improve the safe operation of recreational boats.

The statute gives the Secretary of Transportation authority which has been delegated to the Coast Guard to issue regulations establishing minimum safety standards for recreational vessels and associated equipment.

We granted certiorari to decide whether petitioner’s action is preempted either by the federal statute itself or by a decision of the Coast Guard in 1990 not to promulgate a regulation requiring propeller guards on motorboats.

For reasons stated in a unanimous opinion filed with the Clerk, we hold that petitioner’s action is not preempted and therefore reverse the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court.