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Woman Awarded $21.7M In Watercraft Accident That Caused Permanent Brain Damage At 15

LOS ANGELES  (CBS/AP) — Lawyers for a woman injured in a personal watercraft accident on the Colorado River say she has been awarded $21.7 million by a Los Angeles jury in her lawsuit against the watercrafts' drivers and a manufacturer.

In a release Wednesday, attorney Lawrence Grassini said client Fabiola Esparza was 15 when she suffered permanent brain injury while celebrating July 4th with friends near Blythe, Calif. in 2008.

Grassini said the watercraft Esparza and two others were riding became impossible to control through a defect the maker, Polaris, knew about.

The watercraft crashed into an oncoming boat, causing Esparza to suffer multiple broken bones and brain damage to her frontal lobe. She was in a coma for nearly a month and hospitalized for nearly eight months.

The victim's sister, 22-year-old Angela Esparza, has personally cared for her sibling since the accident.

"It's pretty hard... Everything that requires her to do something, you have to do it for her," she told CBS2/KCAL9 News.

About half of the award will be paid by Polaris, with the rest paid by the drivers of the two watercrafts involved in the collision.

Family attorney Lars Johnson said the longterm goal is for Esparza to get the care she needs.

"They refused to admit there is anything wrong with the machines and this jury spoke very loudly in rejecting that and saying these are dangerous, these are defective, and you're going to be held accountable," he said, noting that Esparaza "needs a lot of care".

Angela Esparza echoed his statement.

"It's not about the money. We're happy she's going to get the help she needs," she said.

Esparza's lawyers say the company stopped making personal watercrafts in 2004.

Polaris released a statement which reads in part: "While our hearts go out to the Plaintiff and her family, Polaris disagrees with the jury's finding and believes the evidence clearly demonstrated that the Virage was a safe vessel and the crash was caused by a combination of too much speed, too much alcohol and reckless driving."

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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