Man sues insurers over lightning-damaged boat

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Dec. 16, 2009, 7:00am

GALVESTON - A Galveston County man accuses a group of insurance companies of withholding payment for his sailboat after it was struck by lightning on Christmas Eve two years ago, recent court documents say.

Glen Adams' lawsuit against OneBeacon Insurance Co., Northern Assurance Company of America, International Marine Underwriters, National Marine Underwriters Inc. and Dixieland Marine Inc. says the defendants improperly inspected the plaintiff's 44-foot Lafitte named Shibui and neglected to compensate Adams.

"The defendants have made baseless allegations of poor maintenance and have refused to reimburse the plaintiff when they are contractually obligated to do so," the suit says.

The case was filed Dec. 9 in Galveston County District Court.

Adams sought and acquired an insurance policy for the Shibui that was good from March 26, 2007 to March 25, 2008.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants were required to pay for a loss to the insured vessel if such loss arose out of a covered accident occurring during the policy period while the plaintiff was ordered to pay premiums as stated in the terms of their contract.

The Shibui sat berthed at Portofino Harbour in Clear Lake Shores when a bolt of lightning hit it on Dec. 24, 2007, causing the ship to take in water and silt.

A neighboring tenant told Adams about the incident, and the plaintiff immediately went to assess the damages.

The plaintiff says he spent the entire night pumping excess water out of the Shibui as well as using dehumidifiers in an attempt to dry it.

He contacted IMU on Christmas to report the loss. Two days later, Adams was informed that Dixieland was tasked with adjusting his claim.

Dixieland looked at the Shibui and found damage to the VHF antenna and backstay, but could not locate the point of entry of the water and silt.

Another inspection by a different company prompted Adams to hire contractors to make necessary repairs to treat growing mucillus fungi.

The vessel was then dry-docked at the nearby Clear Lake Marine on Feb. 5, 2008. Adams claims more extensive damage was subsequently found.

"After removing the vessel from the water, it became clear that their were large cracks in the fiberglass of the keel and discoloration and damage around the reinforcement shoe," the suit says.

"As the vessel sat on dry land, the silt and water began to drain from the vessel through these cracks, from which it had entered."

The suit further explains a surveyor ascertained the lightning paths through the vessel's bonding system from the masthead throughout the entire vessel to the hole in the keel, skeg, grounding plate, rigging and all vessel systems as a consequence.

An evaluation of the Shibui in March 2008 revealed that the necessary repairs would worsen over time, the suit states.

Adams met with a Dixieland agent, who reportedly ignored the hole in the keel and the silt at the bottom of the vessel.

The representative confirmed the lightning strike, but asserted that some damage was caused by back-siphoning and rainwater, which was contradictory to the original findings, the suit says.

"Dixieland did not produce any evidence or explanation to serve as a basis for such theory or to disprove the conclusions... which were that all the damages resulted from the lightning strike," the original petition states.

Adams points out that in April 2008 he was contacted by a NMU agent about handling his claim and promised constant communication.

Neither of the defendants contacted the plaintiff to follow up, the suit says.

"Calls by the plaintiff requesting copies of the insurance defendants' survey were never returned, and the plaintiff has yet to receive a copy of Dixieland's survey/report," it states.

The plaintiff claims he received a letter from IMU stating the defendants will pay him approximately $22,000, which is about 25 percent of the damage estimate or needed repairs up to the date of the letter, if he signed a full release of all claims against OneBeacon and its associated companies.

The suit argues that Dixieland knew the amount was insufficient to compensate the plaintiff, and insists the defendants based the settlement offer on an old report with false assertions and an unecessary delay.

Adams claims he spent his own money repairing the Shibui to no avail.

"He has exhausted his finances and the vessel is still in an unusable, unsafe, and unseaworthy condition," the suit says.

The plaintiff also claims to have suffered extreme emotional distress from the ordeal.

Adams seeks damages including, but not limited to, costs of repairs, transportation of the vessel and inspections. He is also demanding a jury trial.

Galveston attorneys Christopher C. Garcia and Robert A. Davee are representing the plaintiff, and Galveston County 10th District Court
Judge David Garner is presiding over the case.

Case No. 09CV2262

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