Michigan Skipper Demands $1 Million Following Regatta Collision

Last month, sailboat skipper Daniel O’Keefe reportedly sued another captain for allegedly injuring him in a major crash on Lake Michigan. The Ottawa County resident was injured during the Macatawa Bay Yacht Club’s S2 7.9 Class Championship Regatta in August 2014. Race records indicate that O’Keefe was operating a 26-foot boat called “Kaboom,” while the other captain’s similarly-sized boat was called “VOOM!”O’Keefe almost drowned after being slammed in the chest by the bow of the other boat. Unconscious, he was thrown into the water. O’Keefe broke several ribs and experienced heart failure and a heart contusion. He will require oxygen treatment for life, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks over $1 million in damages.

The skipper alleges that he had just reached the first primary mark of the course and was rounding an offset mark when the collision occurred. In sailing, a mark is a buoy or other object that denotes a racecourse element, such as the beginning or end of a leg, start, or finish line. An offset mark is typically set six to 10 boat lengths from a primary mark in the same direction that the primary mark is to be rounded. It is typically used to keep boats in the process of hoisting spinnakers and turning downwind away from those approaching the windward mark.

As O’Keefe was rounding the offset mark, he noticed VOOM! approaching from the left and closing quickly. O’Keefe yelled “Starboard” in reference to the right side of the boat to warn VOOM!, yet he heard nothing from the other captain. He steered sharply to the right in a vain attempt to avert the crash. VOOM!’s bow then struck O’Keefe in the chest, knocking him out of the boat and leaving him unconscious in the water. The skipper claims that he had the right of way and that the other captain piloted his boat in a “grossly negligent manner,” with a “wanton disregard” for others’ safety.

O’Keefe originally filed an admiralty complaint in Ottawa County Circuit Court against the owner of the other boat — Todd Abram, a Minnesota resident. However, the case was transferred to the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. Abram’s Traverse City attorney said that while the collision was tragic, Abram isn’t to blame.

“I think it was an accident,” Abram’s counsel equivocally told the press. He continued that he believes both parties tried to avoid the crash but were unfortunately unsuccessful. O’Keefe, however, asserted in his lawsuit that he did not share any fault for the accident.

Abram’s attorney said that competitors in a regatta assume the risk that sailboat races are inherently dangerous, and in the heat of a competition, certain things are unavoidable–particularly near the markers.

“We’re very sorry it happened,” the attorney said. He has yet to file a formal response to the lawsuit.

Abram’s attorney stated that true liability will be determined in court.

The boat accident attorneys at the Neumann Law Group represent victims of accidents throughout Michigan from offices in Traverse City and Grand Rapids. Call us at (231) 463-0122 or at (616) 717-5666 for a free consultation.

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