Tuesday, July 12, 2016
In the recent issue of Long Island Boating World magazine, Tim
covers maritime law issues involving dram shop liability for a
resort that ran a water taxi service to boat owners who could
come to the resorts bar for drinks before heading back out to
their boats. After a night of drinking, a vessel owner got into a
boating accident in which his passenger was injured. While
alcohol is cited as a factor in boating accidents in general, the
passenger here included the resort in her lawsuit when she sued
the yacht owner for her personal injury.
See the Long Island Boating World article Dram Shop Issues
Raised in Boating Accident...
With the arrival of the Fourth of July weekend, boaters in the
region are excited about getting on the water and making up for
the cold gray days of winter. For some, it’s time to break out igloo
coolers and sunscreen while enjoying warm reunions with fellow
boaters at raft-ups. For others, it’s a time to visit waterfront
restaurants and clubs whose welcoming neon lights were
covered with snow and ice only a few months ago. As the season
gets underway, we sometimes hear public service
announcements warning of the dangers of alcohol on the water.
Even without such announcements, readers appreciate the
consequences of drinking and boating. The Coast Guard offers
compelling statistics that underscore the role of alcohol in
boating accidents. Furthermore, alcohol on the water can result
in criminal prosecutions for Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) or
Boating While Ability Impaired (BWAI). And in the civil lawsuits
that can materialize in the aftermath of an accident, alcohol is a
major factor that courts consider in determining the respective
faults of the vessel operators.
And if an accident does take place, this business of determining
who was at fault is something often confined to the people
aboard the vessels involved. But in a recent East Coast boating
accident involving alcohol, a guest brought legal action against
the water taxi operator that brought her and the boat owner from
a vacation-entertainment resort out to the boat. Shortly after
getting underway, the boat got into an accident.
The resort provided water taxi service between its bar and boats
using its mooring facilities. After a night of drinking, a boat owner
was taken out to his boat by the water taxi. In a subsequent trip,
he was joined by the guest, who was presumed by the court to
have taken the same water taxi out to the boat.
The boat left its mooring buoy at around 1:00 a.m. About an hour
later, it hit the cement pilings of a bridge. The guest was injured
and sued the vessel owner and the resort, presenting claims
asserting admiralty and maritime jurisdiction under the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure and common law negligence. The
admiralty and maritime claims included negligence and
conspiracy against the vessel owner and resort, as well as
maritime dram shop liability. The common law negligence claims
were brought under Maryland state law against the vessel owner
and resort. In response, the resort sought dismissal of the
After considering the legal issues, the court ruled in favor of the
resort, dismissing the claims against it. The court deemed the
resort did have a duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid putting a
water taxi passenger in a dangerous situation. This duty of care
is a key element of legal actions based on a theory of negligence.
However, the court did not feel the guest presented a plausible
claim that the resort violated such a duty.
Regarding dram shop liability, the boat guest relied on a
Massachusetts case in which a private transportation company
brought an intoxicated person to his car. The intoxicated person
drove away and subsequently got into an accident in which an
individual was killed. The majority in the Massachusetts court
held that the defendant owed a duty of reasonable care to avoid
discharging someone who they knew, or should have known,
was intoxicated and likely to drive an automobile [and injure
others thereafter] (Commerce Insurance Company v. Ultimate
Livery Service Inc., 897 N.E. 2d 50, Massachusetts 2008).
However, the court noted that other states had ruled to the
contrary on this issue and that many states, including Maryland,
had not yet addressed the issue.
In terms of conspiracy-based claims, the court found no federal
law governing conspiracy in admiralty cases. Therefore, it
applied Maryland law. Facing a similar situation on the issue of
conspiracy in a different admiralty lawsuit, a South Carolina court
had applied South Carolina conspiracy law for the same reason
(Alonso v. McAllister Towing of Charleston, Inc. 595 F. Supp 2d.
645, 651-652, District of South Carolina 2009). Read the decision
and notes at Leagle, which maintains a compendium of federal
and state court decisions, including federal maritime lawsuits.
After review, the court dismissed the boat guest’s conspiracy
claim. And again ruling for the resort, the court dismissed the
guest’s common law negligence claim.
Ref: Vollmar v. O.C. Seacrets, Inc. et al, Civil Action NJG-11-772,
United States District Court for the District of Maryland
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