Booze And Boating Don’t Mix (But They Do Lead To An Interesting Discussion Of Negligent Entrustment)

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Boat and beer (pd)Some sets of facts just seem tailor-made for a potential lawsuit. Climbing up a ladder with a chainsaw to cut your neighbor’s tree limbs that are hanging over your lawn comes to mind.  Also on that list, a day out on a boat with your friends from the local bar, more than a few beers, and a jet-ski. Those were the basic facts in Votor-Jones v. Kelly. In that case, what started out as a fun day out at sea for a group of friends became a very bad day for plaintiff and an opportunity for the court to opine on the rarely-invoked tort of negligent entrustment.

In Kelly, plaintiff was “one of seven employees and patrons of Kelly’s Tavern invited on a social trip organized by the tavern’s owner and plaintiff’s boyfriend.” While plaintiff described the event as a “bar outing,” it was not the more formal, “large scale ” “customer appreciation days” that the bar had organized in the past. Instead, it was “small and planned the night prior at the suggestion of the boat’s operator.” Each attendee was required to bring their own food and alcohol. To that end, plaintiff and her boyfriend testified that, on the morning of the cruise, they went to the bar and fulled their cooler with approximately 24 beers and a bottle of wine. The group had a total of four or five coolers like this on the boat.

The attendees had a “tacit agreement” that they would not drink until 4pm, but some apparently ignored this agreement. One defendant acknowledged that she was drinking prior to boarding the boat and plaintiff testified that she saw this woman have “at least three beers on the dock” before the cruise began. Once the cruise started, this same woman was seen with a beer in her hand and was described by plaintiff as being “loud,” “boisterous,” and “excited.” Plaintiff conceded that she did not know if the woman was drunk, but did see her “wobbling on the boat, as was everyone else.”

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No Expert Needed When Party’s Attempt To Fix Clogged Tub “Bespeaks Negligence”

Plumbing (pd)by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Although I have been a homeowner for a number of years and like to think that I am reasonably handy, my knowledge of plumbing  is probably more informed by Mario Brothers than anything else. As the saying goes, I know just enough about the subject to be dangerous, so I generally try to avoid it. One of the parties in a recent Appellate Division decision, Sayat Nova, LLC v. Koestner, probably would have been better served heading this advice, as the Appellate Division held that no expert was needed to show that it acted negligently when it broke a pipe in a clogged tub that caused flooding in a restaurant several floors down.

In Sayat Nova, plaintiff operated a restaurant in defendant's building. After water from a third-floor apartment came flooding like a "waterfall" out of the ceiling and into the restaurant, plaintiff sued. The incident that precipitated the lawsuit was not the first time that the restaurant flooded. Four times in the previous three years, water entered the restaurant from the same general area in the ceiling. Each incident "involved more water and more damage than the previous incident." Each time plaintiff notified defendant, but never received a response. On one prior occasion, after receiving no response from defendant, plaintiff hired contractors at his own expense to repair the damage. Plaintiff was never compensated for these expenses or any losses caused by the prior incidents. 

In the incident that led to the complaint, water came into plaintiff's restaurant from the ceiling above a different area of the restaurant than in prior incidents. Moments after plaintiff noticed the intrusion, the building's superintendent entered the restaurant with a man plaintiff did not know. Neither man was a licensed plumber. The superintendent told plaintiff: "By mistake we broke the pipe . . . We try to fix the fixture, and the guy by mistake break the pipe." He was apparently referring to a pipe in a third-floor apartment with a "hair-clogged tub." After the incident, defendant called a licensed plumber to fix the problem, but the damage caused plaintiff to have to close his restaurant several days for repairs.

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This Never Would Have Happened On The Nina, Pinta, Or Santa Maria.

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Columbus boats (pd)

If the name of your company is Christopher Columbus, LLC then it is probably reasonable for you to expect that you will be subject to the maritime jurisdiction of the federal courts. Nonetheless, this was the issue presented in a recent Third Circuit decision, In The Matter Of The Complaint Of Christopher Columbus, LLC (t/a Ben Franklin Yacht), As Owner Of The Vessel Ben Franklin Yacht, For Exoneration From Or Limitation Of Liability.

The case involved a "drunken brawl which erupted among passengers who were enjoying a cruise on the Delaware River onboard the vessel Ben Franklin Yacht." Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that they were assaulted by other passengers on the vessel while the boat was docking, and at least one alleged that the assault continued in the parking lot near the dock. They alleged that the boats crew members caused their injuries by "providing inadequate security and overserving alcohol to passengers." Plaintiffs sued in state court, and Defendant responded by filing a "limitation action" in federal court. (A "limitation action" is a unique wrinkle in maritime law that allows the "owner of a vessel" to limit its liability to "an amount equal to the value of the owner's interest in the vessel and pending freight.") Both sides then moved for summary judgment. But, while these motions were pending, the district court, sua sponte, invited briefing on whether the court had jurisdiction. After briefing and oral argument, the district court found that maritime jurisdiction was lacking and, therefore, dismissed defendant's limitation action.

Defendant appealed. This is where, I think, it gets interesting, at least for someone who does not generally practice maritime law. (Although I did write about a different case not too long ago, which is actually cited in the Christopher Columbus case, so maybe I am developing a niche.) 

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“This Eight Dollar Dish Will Cost You A Thousand Dollars In Phone Calls To The Legal Firm Of That’s Mine, This Is Yours . . . .”

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

One of my favorite scenes from "When Harry Met Sally" occurs when the late, great Bruno Kirby, and the late, great Carrie Fisher, whose characters are just moving in together, are arguing about a wagon wheel table that Kirby's character wants to put in their apartment. Then they ask Billy Crystal's character for his opinion about the table. Big mistake. Crystal had just run into his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. After a few seconds, Crystal launches into a rant about how things may be wonderful for Kirby and Fisher now, but a few years from now they will break up and will spend hours and hours, and thousands of dollars fighting over a "stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale coffee table."  

I was reminded of this scene when I read the Appellate Division's decision in Maciejczyk v. Maciejczyk. Instead of a wagon wheel coffee table, however, the parties in that case were fighting over a water filtration system. Regardless, they proved Crystal's point.

 

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“Knee Deep In The Water Somewhere . . .” Plaintiff Injured by flying coffee cup cannot invoke maritime jurisdiction

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Virgin islands (pd)
If you are like me, you have probably wondered: If I were standing on a boat in the Virgin Islands and was injured when someone tossed "an empty insulated coffee cup" at me, could I invoke a federal court's maritime jurisdiction? Well, we now have the answer in the form of the Third Circuit's opinion in Hargus v. Ferocious and Impetuous, LLC.

In Hargus, plaintiff was a passenger on a boat, the "One Love," which was owned by Ferocious and Impetuous, LLC. He rented the boat along with some friends to sail from St. Thomas to various points in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hargus was standing on the deck of the boat while it was anchored in "knee deep" water, close to shore. Some of the other passengers, who were standing on shore, threw beer cans at Hargus (the opinion does not explain why they did this). Upon seeing this, the captain of the boat, who was standing nearby the passengers who threw the beer cans, threw "an empty insulated plastic coffee cup at Hargus" (the opinion does not explain this either). The coffee cup hit him in the temple. He did not lose consciousness or complain about any injury at the time, and the boat continued on its voyage without further incident.

Two days after the incident, plaintiff sought medical attention after experiencing pain and impaired vision, which he attributed to being hit by the coffee cup. He was diagnosed with a concussion and a mild contusion. (The opinion notes that he had a history of head trauma, having suffered 10-12 prior concussions.) He was not prescribed any medication and was allowed to return to work without restrictions. He did not seek additional treatment until one year later when he went back to the doctor, complaining of headaches, memory loss, mood swings, and neck pains.

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