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Behaving Badly: Vessel Owners

By John K. Fulweiler

It’s crey-crey ‘round here. All kinds of claims, and some of them involve yacht (and other vessel) owners behaving badly. I know I only see the bad antics, but it seems to me that owners who’ve made a little bank automatically think they’re “big time.” The way I see things, who you are is all about how you act when you think no one’s looking. The big players, the real titans, don’t generally fuss with trying to stick it to their hired help. They might not hire you, might fire you, but I don’t typically see them mistreating shipboard staff.

Bully on the money, but what happened to your humanity? 

Listen, vessel owners who choose to defend personal injury claims or other lawsuits, that’s fair game. They’ve got that right, however foolhardy the position they may take. What I’m talking about is different. I’m talking about the owners who just aren’t nice to their crew. Not nice, how? Nope. Not going there because bad behavior is like one of Haydn’s double variations with major and minor themes and many examples. Let’s leave it like this: If you own a boat with a hired crew, you’re running a business and you should give your employees (and spare me, please, the phrase “independent contractor”) respect and dignity. Just because you weigh more doesn’t mean you should flatten people. I’d like to think those able to enjoy yacht ownership would appreciate the lift they got from the winds of fortune and they’d empathize with the saying, there but for the grace of God go I.

The yachting community should get upset with anything less. Crew should band together. Yacht clubs should cast a keen eye on their membership and not tolerate vessel owners behaving badly. Chartering companies should demand upfront deposits from owners to protect crew. And you shipyards and marinas, you too should help put pressure on owners when needed because it’s oft times the crew who chooses (or influences the choice of) which yard will do the haul-out or refit.

What’s wrong with you, is what I ask.

Nowadays, I carefully catalogue the salt of the earth types. I worry the supply of decent folks is running short. I worry the pushing and shoving has gotten worse and that they’re too many folks with just enough money to make them feel untouchable. (That’s never the case, but that lesson is slow to take with quick money.)        

What I do suits me. I pursue maritime claims. I may tilt at the occasional windmill and sometimes draw the wrong side of the legal coin, but I’m always championing my client’s claim. We pursue claims for breach of contract, insurance coverage claims, claims for injury, and the always wrenching death claims. Liability requires fault and if there's fault, we’ll find and highlight (and bang the table) as to how the fault caused our client’s injuries. It’s a little eddy of the vast legal world, but it’s as close as you can get to living a white collar life of making wrongs, right. Worry I’m too passionate? Don’t. I am our client’s voice and it’s a responsibility I take with awesome seriousness. If you were in my office, you’d want nothing less from me. As some video guru says, “You have to obsess to be the best!”

If you’re on the other side of the table and facing a lawsuit as a vessel owner in the defense role, I have some thoughts. Be engaged. Your motives and your lawyer’s (and insurer’s) motives may not always be consistent. You should ask for status updates, and make regular inquiries as to whether settlement offers have been made or settlement demands received. Sit down with your lawyer occasionally and demand to know the end game, demand an explanation as to the strong points being made by the claimant’s attorneys (folks like me who live and breathe a client’s file, seven days a week), and ask your lawyer to explain your defenses and the likelihood of success. Just because you have insurance doesn’t mean you should forget the claim, and I’d wager, your involvement will protect your best interests and may result in an earlier resolution.   

I’m not ranting. I just see and hear about injustices in this watery leisure industry and it makes me mad. Let’s label this column as a PAN-PAN broadcast. In the meantime, get sailing and cut up that blue water with foaming streaks of wind-powered etching. And don’t forget to be kind, man. You won life’s lottery; what’ve you got to prove?

This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.

Underway and making way

John FulweilerJohn K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293), or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.


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WindCheck Magazine November December