The law is pretty straightforward. But the only slippery slope question that remains is what is the definition of sponsor? Does the law intend to mean only the organizer/sanction, or does it include anyone and everyone who coughs up any amount of moneys and/or product as an event sponsor?...
FL Statute 327.48
Regattas, races, marine parades, tournaments, or exhibitions.—Any person directing the holding of a regatta, tournament, or marine parade or exhibition shall secure a permit from the Coast Guard when such event is held in navigable waters of the United States. A person directing any such affair in any county shall notify the sheriff of the county or the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at least 15 days prior to any event in order that appropriate arrangements for safety and navigation may be assured. Any person or organization sponsoring a regatta or boat race, marine parade, tournament, or exhibition shall be responsible for providing adequate protection to the participants, spectators, and other users of the water.
Lawyer probes event sponsors
Seeks insurance info from powerboat race sponsors,
saying state law could make them liable in death
BY ADAM LINHARDT
An attorney for the widow of a powerboat racer killed in last year’s contest is looking for event organizers and sponsors he can hold financially responsible for the Sarasota man’s death.
Attorney Michael Allweiss in late December sent letters to 20 Key West-based businesses and organizations that sponsored the Super Boat International’s 31st annual Key West World Championships in November, when throttle man Joey Gratton of Sarasota was killed.
The letters ask sponsors — the city of Key West, Spottswood Cos., Rick’s and Durty Harry’s Entertainment Complex, Char*ley Toppino & Sons, Waste Management, Fury Water Adventures, Sebago Watersports and Gary’s Plumbing among them — to provide Allweiss with a copy of their insurance policy, liability coverage limits, any statement of any policy or coverage defense, and the name of each insured.
The letters cite Florida Statute 327.48, part of which states, “Any person or organization sponsoring a regatta or boat race, marine parade, tournament, or exhibition shall be responsible for providing adequate protection to the participants, spectators and other users of the water.”
The letters state that Gratton died Nov. 11 while competing in the race “because the sponsors failed to provide adequate protection to the participants in violation of Section 327.48.”
Allweiss has not filed a lawsuit and emphasized Tuesday that his letters are not intended to threaten legal action, only to gather information about the sponsors who were most directly involved in organizing the event.
Regarding “peripheral sponsors,” Allweiss said, “Chances are that the Legislature did not intend to bring you in the scope of this statute.” He cited, as an example, a restaurant that held a dinner for racers and crews, but did not participate directly in the planning of the race.
“If you are sponsoring an event and participate in and have direct knowledge of the actual planning and operation of the boat race and actively participated in those aspects, then from a managerial standpoint, by way of rendering advice or assisting in required areas, then I believe you can be held liable under this statute,” Allweiss said.
What that means for sponsors who received letters, even Allweiss said he does not know yet, as he is still in the early stages of gathering and analyzing the requested information.
The larger issue for Allweiss at the moment is the Florida Wrongful Death Act lawsuit he said he is preparing, but has not yet filed, against Super Boat International (SBI), the governing body for the powerboat races in Key West. He said he will allege that SBI, President John Carbonell and the medical directors hired for the event failed to provide adequately trained first-responders and emergency personnel.
Gratton was in the 38-foot Page Motorsports Superboat 850-class Skater catamaran that rolled twice on the final lap of the 6.1-mile course. Allweiss claims Gratton drowned and could have been rescued.
“He didn’t die doing what he loved,” Allweiss said, referring to a common refrain he said he has heard regarding Gratton’s death. “He died while drowning.”
Allweiss said he had hoped to avoid a lawsuit against SBI and Carbonell, but as of Tuesday, litigation seemed unavoidable.
“I had intended to file a few weeks ago, but then approached counsel for SBI and their insurance provider asking if we could hold off and work together in investigating this case,” Allweiss said. “Unfortunately, it seems to be a one-way street, and at this point the only way to get information is to move forward by initiating litigation.”
An attorney for SBI, William Milliken of Miami, said he was investigating Allweiss’ claims.
“It’s an ongoing investigation, and that’s all I can say,” Milliken said Tuesday.
Aside from being a lawyer, Allweiss is a former chairman of the American Power Boat Association (APBA), a rival boat racing group that previously organized races in Key West similar to SBI’s annual contest. Allweiss and Carbonell have had a decades-long feud over Key West powerboat races and the sanctioning body for the world championships.
The rivalry came to a head in 2003, when the APBA, of which Allweiss was then chairman, moved its world championships from Key West to Alabama amid Allweiss’ disputes with the late Lee Mills, a local race promoter who wanted to establish his own event.
Carbonell’s SBI races took place that year without official APBA sanctions.
Allweiss said he hopes the matter will be sufficiently settled through a lawsuit against SBI, making his letters to event sponsors moot.
“I would hope that we don’t have to bring litigation against anybody,” Allweiss said. “I truly hope that. I don’t think boat racing in Key West should be threatened, but I do think there should never be another boat race held that was as dangerous as this last one.”
Gratton was the third man to die in the race last year. Robert “Bob” Morgan, 74, of Sunrise Beach, Mo., and Jeffrey “JT” Tillman, 47, of Kaiser, Mo., were killed when their 46-foot catamaran, Big Thunder, caught air and flipped over on its third lap. It was approaching the third turn when it jumped a wave, reports say.
Eight people now have died in the Key West powerboat races in the past 27 years.
Last edited by CigDaze; 01-12-2012 at 06:42 AM.
Will letters chill events?
Sponsors fear safety liability
BY MANDY MILES Citizen Staff
A state law that apparently holds sponsors of water-related events responsible for the safety of spectators and participants could have a chilling effect on Key West events that depend on local businesses for money.
Attorney Michael Allweiss, who is representing the widow of a man who died in the November powerboat races, cited Florida Statute 327.48 in letters he sent to sponsors of the 31st Annual Key West World Championship, including Waste Management, Fury Water Adventures, Sebago Key West, WKWF radio station, Spottswood Cos. and others.
The law states that "... any person or organization sponsoring a regatta or boat race, marine parade tournament or exhibition shall be responsible for providing adequate protection to the participants, spectators and other users of the water."
In his letter to sponsors, Allweiss claims racer Joey Gratton "perished ... because the sponsors failed to provide adequate protection to the participants ..."
He goes on to request insurance coverage and policy information from the sponsors and asks that they forward the letter to their insurance carriers.
"This just represents the legal system's exploitation of every possible avenue," said Scott Saunders, owner of Fury Water Adventures, who criticized Allweiss and all lawyers for such liability concerns. "We just won't have events here anymore if everyone has to be worried about liability and lawsuits. I know I won't sponsor them if I have to be worried about lawsuits, and get my insurance company involved every time."
Saunders, like other sponsors, said he simply wrote a check to the race organizers to have the Fury logo featured on advertisements, posters and other event publications.
"I don't understand how we go from buying advertising to support an event to all of a sudden I'm a sponsor who's responsible for the safety of racers," Saunders said. "I had nothing to do with the race."
Paul McGrail, owner of Sebago Key West, said he forwarded the letter to his insurance company, but was not initially concerned about it last week.
"This guy's just fishing," he said. "How could someone else be responsible? It's a shame the guy lost his life, but now it's everyone else's fault? I mean, it's a dangerous sport."
Key West officials said they have not received the letter, according to City Attorney Shawn Smith, who declined to comment before reviewing the document.
Key West City Commissioner Mark Rossi, whose private business was an event sponsor, also declined to comment until he received the letter.
Bill Spottswood did not return The Citizen's call seeking comment late Tuesday.
Harold Wheeler, director of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, which funds several water-related events throughout the Keys each year, had not seen the letter Tuesday afternoon, but upon learning of its contents said, "It is possible that this could affect funding for some events."
He emphasized that the TDC and Monroe County require event organizers to carry sufficient liability insurance and to release the county from risk, but those requirements do not pertain to event sponsors.
The tourboat company, Bed Bath & Beyond, and the local radio station who provided free airtime have nothing to worry about. He's talking about the actual organizers and planners of the event.
Alum Metal Fab
Custom Marine Sales
Dave's Custom Boats
Diamond Performance Parts
Double R Performance
Elton Porter Insurance
Fastboats Marine Group
GGB Exhaust Technologies
Grand Sports Center
Ilmor High Performance Marine
Lake Cumberland Marine
Lake Havasu Boat Show
Marine Technology Inc
McLeod Design Group
Performance Boat Center
Performance Marine Trading
Potter Performance Engines
Ron Sporl Performance
Speed and Custom Marine
Total Dollar Insurance
Teague Custom Marine
Wake Zone Marine Insurance
Young Performance Marine