Ferry boat collides with runabout on the SF Bay. $3.7 million jury verdict. Northern District Court.


Tragedy on the San Francisco Bay when a ferry collides with a small powerboat, killing the boat operator and maiming the passenger.  Maritime law.

The Case

  • Case Name: Holzhauer v. Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District
  • Court and Case Number: Northern District of California; 13-cv-02862
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, April 29, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, June 20, 2013
  • Type of Case: Boating Accident, Maritime (See also "Boating")
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Jon Tigar
  • Plaintiffs:
    David Rhoades
    Mary Holzhauer and the Estate of Harry Holzhauer
  • Defendants:
    Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $3,729,559 for plaintiff Rhoades. $1,546,747 for Holzhauer.
  • Net Verdict or Award: Against the District for Rhoades: $3,729,559 (joint and several); for Holzhauer:$464,024.
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    Contributory negligence: 30% the District; 70% Mr. Holzhauer, the boat operator.

    Mr. Rhoades, as a defendant, received a directed defense verdict as no party presented any evidence of negligence on his part. Therefore, there could not be a jury finding that Mr. Rhoades was at fault for this accident. Because this is maritime law, there is joint and several liability; the District will be held liable for the entire award of $3,729,559.

  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Weltin Streb & Weltin, LLP by Philip R. Weltin and Lindsay R. McKasson, Oakland. (For David Rhoades.)

    Brodsky Micklow Bull & Weiss LLP by Ed Bull. (For Mary Holzhauer and the Estate of Harry Holzhauer.)

    Keesal, Young & Logan by John D. Giffin and Francesca Lanpher (For David Rhoades as Defendant.)

    Buresh, Kaplan, Feller & Chang by Ann Kaplan (For the Estate of Harry Holzhauer.)

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Sterling, Clack & Russo by David Russo and Rex Clack, San Francisco.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Richard Nolan, M.D., orthopedics, Alameda. (For Rhoades.)

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    James Stark, M.D., San Francisco.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Rhoades’ Experts:

    Barry Ben-Zion, Ph.D, economist, Santa Rosa.

    Capt. Katherine Sweeney, maritime compliance, Seattle, WA.

    Holzhauer’s Experts:

    Gary Martin, marine consultant, Pollock Pines.

    Joanna Moss, Ph.D, economics, Berkeley.

    Mitchell Stoller, marine safety, Phoenix, AZ.


  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Eugene Hickey, Jr., marine expert, Occidental.

    Patrick Murphy, marine safety for San Francisco Bay, Moraga.

    Randell Sharpe, marine surveying, Alameda.

    Jerald Udinsky, Ph.D, economics, Berkeley.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On Saturday February 16, 2013 plaintiff Mr. Rhoades and his friend Harry Holzhauer, who was operating Mr. Rhoades' 22-foot motorboat, were coming out of the Sausalito Channel heading toward the city. Defendant District's ferry, the MS San Francisco (carrying about 500 passengers at the time) collided with the motorboat at 4:09 pm.


  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiffs contended that the ferry was negligent in its operation and its policies and that the captain was on his cell phone shortly before the collision.

    Further, that there was no warning from the ferry boat as it approached the rear of plaintiff's motorboat.That AIS data shows that the ferry made a course and speed change starting about 2 minutes before the collision. That the captain of the ferry also made a two-minute cell phone call at 4:07 pm, just before the 4:09 pm collision.


  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant District contended that the ferry made no course or speed change in the minutes before the collision and was transiting on its normal route. The District contended that the ferry captain made a routine operational call which ended two minutes before the collision. The District also contended that the speedboat driven by the plaintiffs came from behind the ferry and then turned onto a collision course with the ferry, while the plaintiffs were looking in the opposite direction.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Mr. Holzhauer, wrongful death.

    Mr. Rhoades sustained the following injuries: Right femur complex, comminuted shaft fracture – resulting in rods, screws, 52 staples; fractures to ribs 9 and 10; right hand, third metacarpal fracture; left knee patella fracture; left proximal fibula fracture with multiligamentous knee injury; left orbital rim skull fracture; complex facial lacerations to forehead and chin; right testicular rupture and hematoma (removed); extensive tissue swelling in the anterior, frontal and periorbital regions of brain; multiple upper and lower extremity abrasions; acute blood loss anemia. Shortly after the incident, a tooth that had suffered trauma needed to be removed as well. Mr. Rhoades spent 7 weeks recovering in the hospital. He has ongoing treatment for these injuries. He was 64 at the time of the accident.

    Rhoades' injuries included a stipulated past medical for $419,000.

  • Future medical, past and future wage loss. Rhoades is a real estate professional and a high income earner. His past and future wage loss are higher than average.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $419,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $200,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $1,845,692
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,051,868