$1.5M to Teen’s Family for Deadly Marina Explosion

The family of a teenager killed while working at a marina in North Carolina in 2008 won a $1.5 million jury award against the manufacturer of equipment that it continued to use even after it was banned.

Nate Coppick, 19, was refueling an 80-foot charter boat at the Westport Marina on Lake Norman, using a fuel nozzle with a latch that held the nozzle open. The nozzle malfunctioned and guzzled out 30 gallons of overflowing gas, causing an explosion that killed Coppick.

His parents sued Petroleum Equipment and Services, the company that makes the fuel nozzle. They also sued the boat owner and marina owner, but settled out of court before trial.

During the trial against the manufacturer, the company argued that it had replaced all its nozzles with new ones in 2006, but the marina kept the old nozzle as a spare. The company blamed the marina for the worn out nozzle and for improperly installing the nozzle, suggesting that the marina was trying to save money instead of waiting for the company to send a new one.

But the lawyer for the dead teenager’s parents, Jason White, told jurors that the company ignored a 2002 state ban on nozzles with hold-open latches by continuing to supply the marina with the banned product.

“It was illegal, and they did it over and over and over again,” White said. “They’re negligent, no question about it.”

The jury of four women and eight men agreed, finding that the company knowingly put people in danger by installing a product outlawed at marinas and awarding $1.5 million to Coppick’s family.

His father, Richard, said after the verdict that the family accomplished their goal of finding out the truth.

“It’s a relief,” he said. “But the pain is always going to be there.”

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