Recently in Marina Liabilities Category

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.

September 29, 2010

Can a Florida Marina Require You to Move Your Boat when a Hurricane is Approaching?

Marina Damage.jpgIt is a common after a hurricane to see boats strewn across docks as well as marina pilings and bulkheads severally damaged. In an effort to protect against hurricane damage, many marina storage agreements contain a clause requiring boat owners to move their vessels out of the marina when a hurricane is approaching. This clause also holds the boat owners responsible for any damage caused by their vessels to the marina should the owners not move their water crafts. Should your marina try to hold you responsible for damage resulting from not removing your boat prior to a hurricane, the law is on your side.

Florida law states:

Marinas may not adopt, maintain, or enforce policies pertaining to evacuation of vessels which require vessels to be removed from marinas following the issuance of a hurricane watch or warning, in order to ensure that protecting the lives and safety of vessel owners is placed before interests of protecting property.

Courts interpreting this statute determined marinas have no claim against the boat owners for failing to remove their vessels when a hurricane is approaching.

With this said, however, marinas can require boat owners to use certain kind of cleats, ropes, fenders and any other type of damage mitigating equipment as a condition to storing their boats at the marina. Should the boat owner fail to utilize the equipment required in the marina storage agreement, and it could be proven that had the equipment been utilized the marina would not have suffered damage, the marina then will be able to bring a claim against the boat owner.