Property Loss Research Bureau
Liability Insurance Research Bureau
Contact: Hugh Strawn
Date: March 29, 2012
Unique Liability Issues Arising from Personal Watercraft Use
Claims Issues Covered
2012 Claims Conference
Ann Piccininni, staff writer
Property Loss Research Bureau
Downers Grove - The sound of splashing water skimming the lake’s surface combines with the whir of wind whipping through the rider’s hair as the personal watercraft engine whines. It’s a cacophony familiar to those who have enjoyed fun in the sun while riding one of these motorized water transports. But all that noise can mask the sound of another approaching personal watercraft (PWC) and that can make for a hazardous scenario.
While PWCs’ popularity soars, the attendant risks involved in using the marine vehicles sometimes lead to thorny coverage issues. “They’re little liability factories,” said Christopher A. Abel, who will be presenting a session titled “Personal Watercraft Liability and Coverage Issues” at the 2012 Claims Conference in Orlando.
Abel said the Personal Watercraft session is new to the Claims Conference. He is co-presenting the class with Carroll Carney Robertson, senior vice president of marine insurance claims for Boat U.S. “I’ve not attended the conference before, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Abel, a partner in Willcox & Savage, P.C., leads the firm’s Maritime Law Practice Group. Before entering private practice as an attorney, he rose to the rank of Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, serving as a law specialist and commanding two ships.
Abel said the risk inherent in PWC use often stems from novices’ tendency to treat the vehicles as toys. “It’s easy to have pretty serious accidents with them,” he said, adding that beginners often aren’t aware of how PWCs differ from other recreational vehicles. “There are no brakes on these things. You cannot turn them unless you are applying throttle.”
The session will cover how to identify the types of liability claims that often result from PWC use. It will also feature a look at common policy coverage and discuss how to avoid potential bad faith exposure on PWC policies with "low limits."
Abel said the session’s emphasis will be on insuring this particular risk, PWCs. “These are vessels unlike any other,” he said. “They’re very (relatively) cheap, and there are a lot of them. The nature of the platform encourages, certainly, the kind of use that can lead to accidents.”
The session will discuss how insurance carriers take all of that into consideration. “Because these are vessels and you are using them on the water, you’re literally in a different environment once you get afloat, legally as well,” he said. “Unless you practice in the area of maritime law, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“Personal Watercraft Liability and Coverage Issues” has been approved by Texas for two continuing education credits. The class will meet from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Monday, April 16 and again from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 18.
More than 90 educational sessions will be offered at the 2012 Claims Conference, covering a wide variety of topics of interest to property and casualty claims professionals. For a full listing and further details about the “Personal Watercraft Liability and Coverage Issues” class and other classes available at the 2012 PLRB/LIRB Claims Conference, visit www.plrb.org or www.claimsconf.org.
The Property Loss Research Bureau and the Liability Insurance Research Bureau are not-for-profit associations of property and casualty insurance companies. They are located in Downers Grove, Illinois.