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Burke v. Quick Life

November 16, 2006

JOSEPH AND MARIA BURKE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
QUICK LIFT, INC., AND STATEN ISLAND BOAT SALES, DEFENDANTS.
AND
QUICK LIFT, INC., THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARVER BOAT CORPORATION, LLC, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This is an action brought in admiralty, pursuant to Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs Dr. Joseph and Maria Burke (the "Burkes") bring this maritime and derivative torts action against defendants Quick Lift, Inc., ("Quick Lift") and Staten Island Boat Sales ("SIBS") (collectively, "defendants"), alleging that the Burkes were injured as a result of defendants' failure to properly install a piece of equipment on a yacht purchased by the Burkes. This Court has jurisdiction over the Burkes' claims under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1333 and 1367.

Defendants move to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied. Defendant Quick Lift also brings a thirdparty claim against third-party defendant Carver Boat Corporation, LLC ("Carver"), alleging that any damages suffered by the Burkes were caused by Carver. Carver moves pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss the thirdparty complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied. Carver also moves, under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to impose sanctions against Quick Lift for filing a frivolous third-party complaint. For the reasons that follow, that motion is also denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. THE FACTS

For the purposes of defendants' motion, the facts as alleged in the complaint are assumed to be true and are construed in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, the non-moving party.

Dr. Joseph and Maria Burke, husband and wife, are residents of Nassau County, New York. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Defendant Quick Lift is a corporation, incorporated in Florida, that manufactures and installs hydraulic davits on boats. (Compl. ¶ 4.) A davit is a mechanical device on a vessel that is used to lift dinghys, or small boats, from the water's surface onto the bridge of the vessel. (Compl. ¶ 24; Pls.'s Response in Opposition ("Pls.'s Response") at 6 & n.5.)

SIBS is a corporation, incorporated in New York, that sells boats, and is an authorized dealer of boats manufactured by Carver. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Generally, SIBS takes title to boats from Carver, and then re-sells those boats to buyers, such as the Burkes. (Compl. ¶ 5.)

In April 2000, Dr. Burke visited SIBS to discuss buying a particular boat, the Carver 450 Voyager (the "Voyager"). (Compl. ¶ 6.) Dr. Burke wanted a Voyager with certain features, but SIBS did not have a boat in-stock that had the requested features. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Accordingly, in order to induce Dr. Burke to purchase the Voyager that SIBS had in-stock, SIBS offered to install a boat-lift davit, and other features, on the Voyager at no additional charge. (Compl. ¶ 7.)

Dr. Burke agreed to purchase the Voyager that SIBS had in-stock, as long as he could take delivery of the boat by Memorial Day weekend of 2000. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Initially, SIBS told Dr. Burke that it could not meet the Memorial Day delivery deadline, but when Dr. Burke later threatened to not purchase the Voyager, SIBS relented and agreed to meet the deadline. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-11.)

Prior to delivery of the Voyager, SIBS hired Quick Lift to install a "low-profile hydraulic yacht davit" on the boat. (Compl. ¶ 12.) SIBS also installed, on its own, a range of other features on the Voyager. (Compl. ¶ 12.) All of the additional features were installed on the Voyager after SIBS had taken title and possession of the boat from Carver. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

The Burkes took delivery of the Voyager in May 2000. (Compl. ¶ 13.) After taking delivery, the Burkes experienced many problems with the Voyager, including, but not limited to, a weight imbalance, leaking interiors, electrical shortages, and multiple engine and exhaust problems. (Compl. ¶¶ 14-23.)

On April 19, 2005, the Burkes were preparing their boat to leave a port in the Bahamas. (Compl. ¶ 24.) That day, they were using the davit to hoist a dinghy onto the Voyager for storage.*fn2 (Compl. ¶ 24.) Mrs. Burke was located on the bridge of the Voyager, where she could manually control the davit with one hand and, with her other hand, hold the device that operated the davit's cable. (Compl. ¶ 24.) Dr. Burke stood below on the aft deck of the Voyager. (Compl. ¶ 25.) When the dinghy was raised, Mrs. Burke reached out with one hand to pull in the davit in order to position the dinghy over its storage berth. (Compl. ¶ 25.) As she pulled in the davit, she heard a loud cracking sound, and the davit dropped one to two feet. (Compl. ¶ 25.) Mrs. Burke grabbed the falling davit with both hands in an effort to keep the davit, and the dinghy to which it was still connected, from falling onto the aft deck of the Voyager and on top of Dr. Burke. (Compl. ¶ 5.)

Mrs. Burke was pulled into an "unnatural position" by the falling davit arm and, as a result, sustained serious injury to her back. (Compl. ¶ 26.) Mrs. Burke has experienced excruciating pain as a result of her injuries and, for a time, was barely able to move. (Compl. ¶ 26.)

According to plaintiffs, the davit arm malfunctioned because the "top plate" that connects the davit arm to the boat experienced a "catastrophic failure" - the plate broke away from the fiberglass decking that held it to the boat. (Compl. ¶ 27.) Further inspection of the davit arm revealed other deficiencies in its installation, including, but not limited to, the failure to install a bottom plate beneath the fiberglass decking, the failure to "thru-bolt" the top and bottom plates, and the use of "selftapping machine screws" to secure the decking to the davit arm. (Compl. ¶ 27.)

B. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On August 5, 2005, the Burkes filed a complaint against defendants Quick Lift and SIBS, alleging a maritime tort claim against both defendants for negligent installation, and a derivative claim for loss of consortium.*fn3 Specifically, plaintiffs allege that SIBS and Quick Lift breached a duty to properly install the davit, thereby causing Mrs. Burke's injuries and giving rise to Dr. Burke's loss of consortium claim. (Compl. ¶ 34.) On July 14, 2006, defendants moved to dismiss the Burkes' complaint.

On October 12, 2005, Quick Lift filed a third-party complaint against Carver, alleging that any damages suffered by the Burkes were caused by the third-party defendant Carver. On July 14, 2006, third-party defendant Carver moved to dismiss Quick Lift's thirdparty complaint and, in a separate ...


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