The Boatyard’s Lift Dropped My Boat. What Should I Do?

My boat was damaged in a shipyard incident when a winch failed on the yard’s mobile hoist. The yard has offered to fix the boat, but they refuse to compensate me for my loss of use of the boat or for my own time that I have invested in this fiasco. They are asking me to sign a release before moving forward with the repairs. What should I do?
First, you should never sign a release without retaining an attorney to review the language of the document. The yard is asking you to give up any future claims in exchange for its voluntary commitment to repair the boat, and if you fail to consider an issue when drafting the release, you will likely lose that claim forever.

The remainder of the reader’s question involves two legal concepts that are very frustrating to boat owners, because the law does not typically allow for an inured party to recover for these types of losses.

Federal courts have consistently held that the use of a recreational vessel has no monetary value, and the boat owner therefore loses nothing of value when he or she is unable to use the boat. The use of a recreational vessel is viewed in the same light as any other recreational pursuit, and if the boat is broken, the boat owner is expected to simply play with some other toy until the boat is repaired.

Boat owners often feel that they should, at a minimum, recover their slip rental payments and mortgage payments while the boat is out of service, since these are legitimate out-of-pocket expenses that are easily proved. However, the law recognizes that these obligations would be incurred regardless of whether the boat was in an accident. Since the expenses were not caused by the accident, they are generally not recoverable in a lawsuit arising from an accident.

We should point out that this analysis is limited to the use of the boat, which is separate and distinct from the value of the boat itself and the cost to repair any physical damage to the boat, both of which are recoverable in a lawsuit. We should also note that a commercial vessel is viewed differently because the vessel is employed in a moneymaking venture, and the loss of use may be measured against a relatively objective yardstick.

Finally, the law generally does not allow for an injured or damaged party to recover for the loss of their own time in connection with a claim, unless they can prove a loss of wages or other income that would have been earned if not for the accident. This legal treatment may be traced to the fact that your own time has no “accounting basis,” because you did not have to purchase that time from anyone.

Therefore, lost time does not equal lost money, unless you can prove a loss of income from a job or business. As such, none of the time invested on weekends or after work in preventing further damage to the property, negotiating a settlement with the other side, seeking legal advice or any other work on your claim, is recoverable. In short, the law does not place a value on “hassle,” regardless of how bad the hassle gets.

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