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Your Legal Obligations during a Storm

Most people are probably quite unaware that they may actually have legal obligations for what happens to their boats, or rather what their boats do to other property, during a hurricane. Such obligations have been demonstrated in numerous court cases.

There is a well-established legal doctrine that almost everything that happens during a storm is classified as an “Act of God.” That means that if your roof blows off onto someone else’s house, you are not responsible for that damage. However, negligent behavior is excluded from that doctrine if resulting damage was preventable by taking reasonable precautions.

The most famous case was that of a barge owner who anchored his large barge in a bayou and took no extra measures when a storm came up. The barge broke loose and wrecked a large factory and the barge owner was held liable.

There are numerous examples of yacht owners who failed to take any, or reasonable precautions to secure their vessels, wherein a court ruled that they were liable for damages caused by their vessels despite the storm. Thus, a boat owner who decides to abandon his boat to his insurance company just to get rid of it, he risks not only a possible denial of his insurance claim, but a law suit for any damages his vessel may cause.

In one case that I was involved in, a homeowner who just happened to be a retired lawyer rented out his dock to an out-of-state boat owner. Big mistake there, right? Well our lawyer friend called the boat owner to advise him of the storms approach, not once but three times, getting an answering machine each time. But he did something else, too: he recorded his phone calls.

As expected, the boat owner did nothing to secure the boat, and as the homeowner was in a wheel chair, was not able to do it, though he had asked a neighbor for help, wasn’t able to get any. Thus the homeowner made a prudent, if failed effort. Well, that boat wrecked the swimming pool and patio before ending up in the living room. Then the real fun began. The boat owner filed a claim for the storm damages to both the boat and the liability claim by the homeowner. But for the homeowner’s allegation that the boat owner failed to secure his boat, the insurer probably would never have known. But now they’ve got a liability claim on their hands from a homeowner angry about the boat owner abandoning his boat.

The insurance company denied the hull claim based on breach of contract because the insured failed to protect his property, leaving him without liability coverage also. The boat owner sued the insurer and the homeowner sued the boat owner who lost both contests. The damage assessed to the boat owner’s negligence was $78,000.
Similarly, if a boat breaks loose and plows into a dozen other boats for want of taking action in the face of a storm, that boat owner may be also held liable.

A boat owner is legally required to take “reasonable and prudent” actions to prevent his property from damaging others. Reasonable and prudent means such actions as any experienced boater would take, not a half-hearted effort for appearances sake. There are thousands of people who buy boats, park them somewhere far from home, and then forget about them, figuring that because it is insured, they can just forget about it and collect the insurance when it gets wrecked. That kind of thinking can cost one dearly.

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Posted September 1, 2004



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David Pascoe - Biography

David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

Over forty years of knowledge and experience are brought to bear in following books. David Pascoe is the author of:

In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from nearly 80 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

On November 23rd, 2018, David Pascoe has passed away at age 71.

Biography - Long version


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