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Liability of Boat Livery or Resort Operators For Boating Injuries

A person engaged wholly or partly in the business of chartering or renting boats to other persons is a boat livery operator.  A Livery boat is a vessel offered for rent or lease by its owner.  A boat livery or a boat owner relinquishes complete physical control over the vessel to the lessee or the renter.  However, the legal title of a vessel continues to vest with the boat livery owner.

A boat owner or a boat livery supplying a boat for normal use must exercise reasonable care and deliver the chattel in proper condition.  A boat livery operator’s duties are the same as that of a bailor.  A boat livery operator is required to exercise a high degree of care to be aware of the condition of the chattel where he/she knows the general purpose for which it will be used[i].  When a bailor has actual knowledge of defects or dangerous qualities that he/she knows are not known to a bailee and that may result in injury to the bailee,, the bailor is bound to disclose such defects or dangerous conditions to the bailee.  A bailor can be held liable to a bailee for damages due to failure to make such disclosures[ii].  However, a bailor need not disclose those defects which a reasonable man can discover and correct.  A bailor is also not an insurer of the safety of a bailee for injuries from the use of the chattel.

In the absence of a public regulation or a contract, a boat livery operator is not obliged to furnish boats which will float and carry  passengers when capsized.  Moreover, a city operating a boat livery has no legal duty to maintain patrols to rescue persons in case of boat capsizing.  In Alberti’s adm’x v. Nash, three young men rented a boat from the defendant bailor for fishing[iii].   The men had difficulty in catching fish as the water on the lake was choppy.  Plaintiffs decided to return to the dock when the boat sank and one of the men died.  The adminstratrix of the deceased’s estate sued the bailor for the alleged wrongful death.  The trial court rejected the plea and the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.  The court observed that the bailor did not violate any implied warranties because the boat was fit for fishing.  Moreover, there was no evidence to show that the boat was unsound.  A bailor is not bound to provide life preserves.  The court observed that the men did not request life preservers from the bailor.  They had the duty of bringing and of using life preservers.  It was not the bailor’s duty to warn them against going on choppy waters.  The court held that “[b]ecause any reasonable person in hiring a rowboat to be used for fishing is presumed to be aware of the danger, the duty is on the bailee to observe whether or not it contains life preservers, as much as it is upon the bailor to furnish life preservers”[iv].

However, absolute liability is cast on a bailor or owner of a vessel if it is shown that the owner or bailor should have anticipated the danger and was negligent to equip the vessel with sufficient lifeguards for rescue[v]. Moreover, when a city leases boats for use in a city owned lake, the city is liable for injury arising from the unsafe condition of the vessel[vi].

The duties and liabilities of private owners or operators of bathing or other resort areas for injuries to or the death of swimmers or water skiers resulting from being struck by motorboats is similar to that of an owner or occupant of premises to his/her invitees.  The person inviting others to come upon his/her place of business and to use his/her facilities is under a duty to exercise reasonable care to have and keep the premises and the facilities reasonably safe for his/her invitees[vii].  Moreover, a duty is cast upon a person inviting others to exercise due care to prevent injury to patrons who without fault use the waters for bathing or swimming in the customary way.  An owner will not be permitted to establish a business for profit only.  He/she cannot escape liability for injuries caused by the unsafe condition of the premises[viii].

In a patron-proprietor relationship, a proprietor’s breach would constitute negligence on his/her part.  Negligence is the omission to use reasonable care to keep such accommodations in a reasonably safe condition for the invitee’s use.  A proprietor is to warn a patron against any dangers attendant upon the use.  The danger should not be one known to an ordinarily intelligent person or in the exercise of reasonable care discoverable to an invitee[ix]. 

[i] Eklof v. Waterston, 132 Ore. 479 (Or. 1930)

[ii] Goldman v. Phantom Freight, Inc., 162 Mich. App. 472, 479 (Mich. Ct. App. 1987)

[iii] 282 S.W.2d 853 (Ky. 1955)

[iv] Alberti’s adm’x v. Nash 282 S.W.2d 853 (Ky. 1955)

[v] Nordgren v. Strong, 110 Conn. 593 (Conn. 1930)

[vi] Beadles v. Servel, Inc., 344 Ill. App. 133, 138 (Ill. App. Ct. 1951

[vii] Nordgren v. Strong, 110 Conn. 593, 599 (Conn. 1930)

[viii] McKinney v. Adams, 68 Fla. 208, 225 (Fla. 1914)

[ix] Perkins v. Byrnes, 364 Mo. 849 (Mo. 1954)

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