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$1 million award for woman injured in sailing incident


A Charleston-area woman is receiving more than $1 million after an incident on a sailboat left her with permanent brain injuries.

Raven Ray alleged in her personal injury suit that a crew member invited her on board the boat during a race in May 2014 and within 10 minutes a sail hit her head. She alleged that it was her first time on a sailboat and she was unaware of the precautions she needed to take.  

As a result, she sat on the boat’s deck near the mainsail and was injured when the boat’s captain, Steve Lesniak, ordered the crew to perform a gybe maneuver.

Witnesses on the boat testified that Ray was told to get out of the way, but Ray said she didn’t hear them, and would have struggled to comprehend what they meant had she heard.

U.S. District Judge David Norton of Charleston found Lesniak to have been negligent because he should have known that Ray was sitting in a dangerous place, and that it was his duty, along with other crew members, to tell Ray ahead of time where not to sit.

Norton also found that it was up to Lesniak as the boat’s captain to warn Ray that the gybe was about to happen, and to not do the maneuver until she had moved out of the way.

Expert testimony played a role in the decision, as did the extent of Ray’s injuries. Dr. Marshall White, a neurologist in Sumter who treated Ray, told the court that he believed Ray’s injuries were permanent.

Some of the symptoms Ray experienced after the injury were anxiety, moodiness, difficulty sleeping, trepidation, hypersomnolence and difficulty focusing and remembering things.

While the court decided in Ray’s favor, Norton ruled that Ray was partially to blame for what happened.

“Ray failed to pay attention to warnings from multiple crew members to move from her position in front of the main sheet rope,” Norton wrote.

As a result, the court found Ray to be 25 percent to blame, and reduced her damages by a corresponding amount.

After mediation in July 2017, Allstate offered Ray a $15,000 settlement on behalf of Lesniak, which she refused.

The court eventually awarded Ray $980,909 with an additional $22,952 in interest.

Attempts to speak with attorneys for both sides were unsuccessful.



Amount: $1,003,861

Injuries alleged: Permanent brain damage

Case name: Raven Renee Ray v. Steve A. Lesniak

Court: United States District Court for the District of South Carolina Charleston Division

Case No.: 2:16-cv-1752-DCN

Judge: David Norton of Charleston

Date: Feb. 22, 2018

Attorneys for plaintiff: William Early, Theodore Consta Hargrove II and Benjamin Smoot II of Pierce, Sloan, Wilson, Kennedy & Early in Charleston

Attorneys for defendant: Stephanie Phillips and Joseph Weston of the Weston Law Firm in Mount Pleasant

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