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Annapolis marina on the hook for damage to yacht

They say that loose lips sink ships, but in the case of the yacht A Portrait, a failure to check a loose sea strainer cap sank the boat in Annapolis.

Federal Insurance Co., which insured David C. Mitchell’s yacht, was awarded more than $54,000 in damages in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in November against Kentmorr Harbour Marina for failing to check for leaks when it launched the boat.

The insurer’s suit was also against Sheep Dog Marine LLC, but Judge William Nickerson found that Sheep Dog, which winterized the yacht and, according to common practice, left the cap loosely fitted, was not liable for the damages.

Sheep Dog’s attorney, Robert B. Hetherington with McCarthy Wilson LLP in Rockville, was not available to comment Friday. Kentmorr Marina’s attorney, Stephen M. Calder, could not be reached Friday because his law office, Palmer Beizup & Henderson LLP in Philadelphia, was closed for the day.

The court also awarded the insurer pre-judgment interest at 6 percent per year dating back to April 9, 2008, when the boat sank.

James Skeen, a Baltimore attorney with Skeen & Kauffman LLP who represented Mitchell and Federal Insurance, said he knew that Sheep Dog was not at fault, but had to sue the company because Kentmorr said Sheep Dog was at fault.

“Kentmorr kept trying to get money out of Sheep Dog, but Sheep Dog didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

Mitchell had hired Kentmorr Marina, of which he was a part-owner at the time, to store his custom-fitted 2004 38-foot Cruisers yacht on land for the winter in October 2007. Kentmorr Marina, which did not have a service or repairs department, hired Sheep Dog to winterize the boat, which entails draining all the water from the boat’s systems and replacing it with antifreeze.

According to court documents, during that process, Eric Groves, the owner of Sheep Dog, opened the sea strainer caps to remove and clean the basket and run antifreeze through the system.

Groves left the portside cap loosely fitted. Testimony during the hearing suggested that it’s common practice to leave the caps loosely fitted after winterization to bleed air.

In March 2008, Mitchell asked Kentmorr to get his boat ready to be launched, which means taking it off of blocks and using a travel lift to put it in the water. Experts testified at trial that the party that launches the boat is responsible for making sure the boat is not taking on any water once it’s afloat.

The general manager of Kentmorr, Richard “Dick” Lean, emailed Sheep Dog to see if there was anything he should know before launching the yacht, and asked whether the boat had drain plugs. Groves replied with information about the boat, but did not mention the sea strainer caps needing to be tightened.

Lean and another Kentmorr employee launched A Portrait on April 9, 2008. Lean checked the outside of the boat, but neither man went on board or inspected the interior before or after the launch.

The next morning, Lean found the boat was partially submerged. The cause of the sinking was the loosely fitted sea strainer cap.

The court said expert testimony showed that if someone had boarded the boat it would have been “visually and audibly obvious that A Portrait was taking on water because of the large quantity of water coming through the sea strainer into the bilge space.”

Mitchell and the insurer said the yacht sustained $54,861.27 in damages. Mitchell paid a $3,500 deductible and received the rest of the money needed to repair the boat from his insurer.

The court said Kentmorr breached its contractual obligation of workmanlike conduct when it launched the boat without performing a cursory check of the boat for leaks. The insurer also proved Kentmorr is liable for negligence, the court said.

David C. Mitchell v. Kentmorr Harbour Marina, et al

Court:

U.S. District Court in Baltimore

Case No.:

1:10cv00337WMN

Proceeding:

Bench Trial

Judge:

William Nickerson

Outcome:

Plaintiff’s verdict

Award:

$54,861.27

Dates:

Incident: April 2008

Suit filed: Feb. 16, 2010

Disposition: Nov. 17, 2011

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

James Skeen of Skeen & Kauffman LLP

Defense Attorney:

Stephen M. Calder of Palmer Biezup & Henderson LLP in Philadelphia for Kentmorr; Robert B. Hetherington of McCarthy Wilson LLP in Rockville for Sheep Dog Marine LLC

Count:

Breach of contract, negligence