Lawsuit over 2011 drowning of powerboat racer is settled

More than three years after powerboat racer Joey Gratton was killed during the Key West World Championships, a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his widow was settled midway through trial last week in Broward Circuit Court.

Terms of the settlement between Priscilla Gratton and the defendants, including Super Boat International president John Carbonell, were not disclosed. But St. Petersburg attorney Michael Allweiss, representing Gratton, called it “an enormous settlement.”

Under the agreement, Carbonell and his co-defendants were not held liable for the racer’s November 2011 death.

The lawsuit accused Super Boat International, Carbonell, and his hired rescue staff of a slow and incompetent response when Gratton’s boat, Page Motorsports, overturned during the final race of the three-race series. Driver Steve Page escaped without injury, but Gratton was trapped upside down in his seat by his safety harness and drowned before rescuers could pull him out.

“We proved everything we alleged about SBI and then some,” Allweiss said. “It was a complete victory for the Grattons and Steve Page, who made every heroic effort to save Joey.”

Carbonell said in a statement that his organization and offshore racers are thankful to have the situation behind them.

“I hope this can bring some closure for the Gratton family,” Carbonell said. “There is no winner when it comes to legal matters over someone’s life and we wish for only the best possible future for Joey’s family.”

Two other racers were killed during the 2011 championships. Missourians Bob Morgan and Jeffrey Tillman drowned when their Big Thunder catamaran flipped upside down in Key West Harbor. A lawsuit filed by Tillman’s family is pending.

Carbonell has long insisted that powerboat racers are well aware of the risks involved in the high-performance sport, which is similar to Formula 1 and NASCAR on the water. SBI stepped up its safety protocols and rescue procedures in the wake of the three deaths. No one has died in a world championship since then.

Carbonell said Super Boat is excited about the upcoming racing season culminating in the November 2015 Key West Worlds.

Retorted Allweiss: “If I were a racer, I’d never go anywhere near those people. They are going to kill somebody else.”