In nearly every case where we represent a recreational yacht / boat owner wherein the owner lost use of the yacht for a period of time, one of the first questions asked is whether they could recover loss of use damages. The answer is perhaps.
Under admiralty law, a recreational yacht / boat owner cannot recover loss of use damages while his vessel is laid up. The origin for this maritime rule is from an 1897 case called The Conquer. In that case the Supreme Court denied loss of use damages to Frederick Vanderbilt when his yacht was detained by U.S. Customs after a transatlantic voyage. Though The Conquer decision is highly criticized by the lower courts, it is the law until either the Supreme Court reverses itself or Congress passes a law allowing for such damages. As one court recently put it, “I would be less than candid if I did not also register my sense that the categorical rule of The Conqueror finds its source in the resistance of the Supreme Court to enabling one of the richest men in late nineteenth century America to recover, on questionable evidence, the ‘inconvenien[t]’ loss of one of his many recreational diversions. That categorical rule has, however, a broad wake, depriving the working couple in this case recovery for a monetizable loss of the central recreational activity to which they have devoted considerable personal efforts over a number of years.” Courts, however, have started to chip away at The Conquer’s oppressive holding. Below are just a couple of examples where courts have found loss of use damages for a recreational yacht / boat owner.