ANNOUNCEMENT: $253,000 SALVAGE VERDICT!
Big News. This week on March 2, 2021, we obtained a verdict of $253,000.00 in a marine salvage case. This was not a settlement. It was a verdict issued by a federal court judge in the Southern District of Florida, and the case is known as Girard v. M/V Blacksheep.
This case began in Key West when two of our clients, marine salvors, rendered assistance to a large motor yacht which had thrown a shaft and was taking on water faster than the vessel’s pumps could handle. The vessel was within 200 yards of the end of Duval Street, just off the coast and jetties in front of Ocean Key Resort, The PierHouse, and the Galleon. The salvors came to the scene very quickly, deployed pumps, dove under the vessel, and were eventually able to winch the shaft almost completely back into place to place to stop the incoming water. All of this happened in dark conditions, with a stiff-running tide, and near other boats running the channel into Key West Bight.
We actually did this trial in Key West in front of a federal judge there at the federal courthouse on Simonton Street. It is fair to say the federal judge did not fully appreciate the risk to the salvors and the benefit to the vessel and insurance company that comes with a marine salvor’s efforts. After that trial, a few days later, the federal judge issued a decision which awarded ZERO for the salvage. Yes, ZERO. He said the vessel could have saved itself—which it clearly could not have done so—and therefore the vessel did not need the assistance of the salvors. (More about that below.) This was contradicted by the yacht’s captain calling a MayDay to the USCG, asking for pumps over the VHF, and then writing in his captain’s log that he took steps to prevent the sinking of the vessel that day.
After that ruling we filed an appeal of the verdict to the appeals court, known as the 11th Circuit, which covers Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. In the appeal we argued that the federal judge was incorrect in the law he used, and was wrong in saying that the salvors had to try to prove that the vessel would not have been saved without the salvors’ efforts. The 11th Circuit appeals court agreed with us, and issued the most important maritime salvage case for Florida salvors in 40 years. What this case did was to get rid of the idea—promoted by insurance companies who don’t want to pay value on salvage jobs—that the salvor has to prove the vessel would not have been able to save itself without the salvor’s assistance. What this now means is, when a salvor comes across a vessel in marine peril and whose captain or owner requests assistance, the salvor does not have to come back after-the-fact and prove whether the vessel could have “saved itself”. That is a huge hurdle that has now been knocked down for Florida salvors.
But after that great appeal’s court reversal, there was still one more thing left to do. After the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the original ruling of “zero” award, the case was shipped back down to the same federal judge who had awarded us zero. This time, the judge acknowledged that the salvors had acted quickly, had performed under dangerous circumstances, and had done a great service in preventing the yacht from sinking. So, just yesterday, we achieved a verdict from the federal judge for $253,000.00 for those salvor clients.
In marine salvage cases I have constantly said that it is important how the case is handled from the outset. The insurance companies get involved. The defense attorneys and insurance-surveyors are working behind the scenes, or right up front, trying to obtain information to limit what they have to pay to our salvors. Don’t hesitate to call us if you have a marine salvage situation. Many of these cases start on the weekends. I am always willing to talk with our marine salvor clients—even on Saturdays and Sundays–to make sure the salvage is being done right on the legal side. What is said and done between the salvor and the vessel owner/captain is important in determining whether the salvor will get paid—and how much the salvor will get paid.
Also, we still have our easy to remember phone number 888-BOAT-LAW. This was a great victory for those salvor clients who put in the hard work and we were able obtain a good recovery for their work. This was a case where our clients were located in the Florida Keys and is a testament that we represent and fight for our marine salvors throughout all of the State of Florida.