Boaters sue marina owner and builder

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Seven boat owners whose vessels were destroyed by Hurricane Frances in 2004 have filed suit against the city of Fort Pierce, Fla., and Bellingham Marine, saying each bears some responsibility for those losses, reported in a story on its Web site Sunday.

The federal lawsuit alleges the city failed to properly maintain and inspect the dock and pilings, failed to warn boat owners about the danger, and failed to dredge the nearby water to allow boats to safely leave the area, among other claims. The boat owners also say Bellingham Marine, which built and installed the docks and pilings in the mid-1990s, is at fault because the docks weren’t built to withstand “adverse weather conditions,” according to the story.

Fort Pierce will reportedly respond to the lawsuit this week, but City Attorney Rob Schwerer said its position is that the damage to the boats was caused by the hurricane and not anything the city did or didn’t do, while Bellingham, in court papers, also denies it was responsible for the dock destruction, according to the story.

The city plans to file a counterclaim against the boat owners, arguing that boats that were not properly secured came loose in the storm and damaged the docks. Dozens of boats and several docks were destroyed during the Sept. 4, 2004, hurricane.

The case will be decided under federal admiralty laws and will be heard by U.S. District Judge Donald Graham in Fort Pierce.

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