When Superstorm Sandy struck Staten Island off New York in October 2012, a dinner cruise boat docked in a marina sustained severe damage from the storm’s high winds and rain, ultimately sinking with a loss of $750 000. The operators of the marina were held liable to the insurer which had paid out more than $900 000 to the boat’s owner (including salvaging costs). The marina took the boat into the marina to be stored and repaired the day before the storm, failed to warn that the staging dock was unsafe, and told the boat owners that they would take precautions.

The marina operator said that the owners of the boat made a unilateral decision to leave the boat locked in the marina overnight and there was no contract of bailment in place.

The court found that there was clearly an oral agreement to repair the boat under which they had accepted delivery. It was also found that the marina operator knew that the location where the boat was moored was unsafe during a storm. The marina operator tried to argue an ‘act of God’ defence but their failure to take steps to secure the vessel despite assurances that they would do so meant that the defence failed.

The case is National Union Fire Insurance v Garpo Marine Services Inc.