August 2011 Archives

August 25, 2011

Court Rules in Favor of Boat Owner Represented by Brais & Brais in a Dispute Concerning the Sinking of a Recreational Boat

Floirda Boat Lawyers.jpgBrais & Brais' Florida maritime attorneys successfully argued that a Federal Court can hear a breach of the warranty of workmanlike performance implied in an oral repair contract as well as a breach of marine bailment dispute concerning the sinking of a recreational boat that was entrusted to an engine repairer.


The Facts

In December 2009, a recreational vessel owner entered into an oral contract with an engine repairer to fix the starboard engine of a 33' Chris-Craft sportfish named CJ. At the time of the contract, the vessel was connected to shore power at its home berth in the Worldwide Sportsman Marina located in Tavernier, Florida. The repairs began at Worldwide Sportsman Marina, but soon thereafter, the engine repairer requested the vessel be moved to a berth behind his house for his convenience. The owner consented to the vessel being moved, however, the repairer did not move the vessel behind his house as represented. Instead, he moved the vessel to his neighbor's house and failed to relay this information to the owner. When the repairer shifted the vessel, he failed to reconnect the shore power or monitor the vessel. During the repair project, the vessel began taking on water from the drive shaft's packing gland. The onboard bilge pumps kept up with the intruding water until the battery life expired. The vessel sunk at its moorings causing damage to its hull, machinery, appurtenances and the owner's personal property. Had the repairer reconnected the shore power or monitored the vessel, the CJ could have been saved.


The Law

Brais & Brais, on behalf of the owner, filed a complaint against the engine repairer for damages in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The complaint asserted claims for breach of the warranty of workmanlike performance implied in the oral repair contract as well as breach of marine bailment. The repairer moved to dismiss the owner's case on multiple grounds.

First, the repairer challenged the court's authority to hear the case. He argued admiralty jurisdiction was lacking because the CJ was incapable of transportation given its engine was dismantled at the time of the sinking. In order for the court to have admiralty jurisdiction, the CJ must be classified as a vessel. Federal law defines a "vessel" as, "every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water." Brais & Brais countered by arguing the test for jurisdiction is not whether the CJ is operational at its current condition but whether it was capable of transportation over water. Brais & Brais pointed out at the time the contract was formed, the CJ was floating at its home berth and the repairer even shifted the vessel to his neighbor's house using the vessel's propulsion system. The court agreed with our attorneys, determined the CJ is "vessel" for admiralty jurisdiction purposes and found it had authority to decide the dispute.

The repairer next argued the owner failed to state a claim for breach of workmanlike performance by asserting the owner, a corporation, failed to plead its agent entered into the contract on its behalf as well as the contract was not reduced to writing. The court rejected these arguments agreeing with Brais & Brais that there is no obligation to plead an authorized corporate agent entered into the contract. The court also agreed with Brais & Brais that maritime law does not require a repair contract to be written in order to possess a claim for breach of workmanlike performance.


The Impact

This case is significant as it helps define a vessel for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction as well as recognizes a claim for breach of implied warranty of workmanlike performance in an oral marine repair contract. Click hear to read the order allowing Brais & Brais' client to continue with its breach of the warranty of workmanlike performance implied in an oral repair contract and breach of marine bailment claim.

August 16, 2011

Engine Manufacture Liable for Boat Accident Injury

Florida Boat Injury Lawyer.jpgSwimmers and water skiers are injured each year by boat propellers. Our Florida boat accident attorneys are often asked if the boat or engine manufactures are liable for these injuries. The law finds a manufacture of a product liable for an injured caused by that product when the design is defective and/or if there existed an alternative safer design. All too often manufactures make a business decision to not place a safer product into the market because of cost. Instead they take the approach that it is cheaper to pay the odd personal injury claim than to spend the money to produce a safer product. There is a recent trend among court cases finding manufactures for not equipment their engines with propeller guards.


The Brochtrup Case

Jacob Brochtrup was severally injured when he was run over by a ski boat. Brochrup brought a personal injury lawsuit against the boat and the engine manufacturer alleging the boat's ungraded propeller constituted a design defect. The jury awarded Brochrup $3.8 million dollars. The engine manufacture appealed arguing Brochtrup failed to present evidence that the engine was defectively designed and that there was an existing alternative safer design. The federal appellate court found there was significant evidence presented for a jury to conclude the engine manufacture was negligent for failing to equip the engine with a propeller guard.


Conclusion

In conclusion, boat and engine manufactures may be held liable for an injury caused by an unguarded propeller. If you were injured by a boat's propeller and have questions about a potential claim, feel free to contact our Florida boat injury lawyers.

August 15, 2011

Can a Cruise Line Fire Me for Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Our clients often ask us if their employer (whether it is a cruise line or shipping firm) can fire them for simply filing a maritime personal injury lawsuit. Our answer is that they can, but they will open themselves up to a claim for retaliatory discharge.

Tugboat.jpgMaritime law provides a seaman crew member a claim for "retaliatory discharge" where his "employer's decision to discharge him was motivated, in substantial part, by the knowledge that the seaman intends to, or has, filed a personal injury action against the employer." Baiton v. Carnival Cruise Lines

Should the maritime employer fire a seaman crew member in retaliation to filing or the possibility of filing a personal injury lawsuit, the law entitles the seaman crewmember compensatory damages. Compensatory damages include the seaman crew member's expenses of finding new employment, lost earnings while he/she seeks another position, and lost future earnings if the seaman crew member's new job pays less than that earned while the he/she was employed by the company that wrongly fired him/her. In addition to these compensatory economic losses, the discharged seaman crew member may be entitled to recover compensatory damages for mental anguish that he/she may suffer as a result of the wrongful discharge.

Even though an employer may fire you because you are about to file or have filed a personal injury lawsuit, the law gives you the right to recover against your employer. If you are injured or think your employer fired you because it thought you will file a lawsuit and would like to ask us questions, feel free our board certified maritime lawyers.