Brokerage found liable for misrepresentation

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A Fort Lauderdale, Fla., brokerage was found liable for $1.7 million in damages after a Rhode Island man filed suit claiming the 66-foot yacht he bought in 2007 was "not seaworthy."

HMY Yacht Sales was found liable for negligent misrepresentation by a federal jury April 28 in Fort Lauderdale, according to court documents. Jim Barboni, the HMY broker who led the deal, also was found liable of negligent misrepresentation and was ordered to pay $100,000, court documents show.

HMY Yacht Sales was found liable for 85 percent of the damages, Barboni for 5 percent, according to court documents. Additional defendants, not listed in the final judgment, were also found guilty of negligence.

Brian O'Neill traveled to South Florida to purchase the sportfishing boat in March 2007 after seeing an HMY ad online listing it for $2.6 million, according to court documents. The boat is referred to as a "2005 Twin Screw 66-1/2 foot fiberglass motor yacht 'Bryemere' f/k/a 'M/V Double Billed.' " It was described as such: "This awesome like 'NEW' ... solid fiberglass Custom Carolina Sport Fish has all the attributes you would expect out of a high performance custom yacht. The speed, sea handling and those looks, with the sleek profile and Carolina flare."

O'Neill met with HMY's Barboni and the yacht's previous owner, Richard Talbert, March 18, 2007, in North Palm Beach and viewed the boat. Later that month, Talbert, Barboni and O'Neill took the vessel out on Lake Worth - not the Atlantic - while a surveyor conducted a sea trial, court documents show.

O'Neill purchased the boat for $2.3 million in April 2007 and began to notice problems during a trip from South Florida to New England, according to the suit. A transducer began leaking, sludge poured from the fuel tanks, and the hull was "flexing." He said he had the boat surveyed again in Rhode Island, and a naval architect deemed the boat "not structurally sound" and "unsafe to operate."

After an unsuccessful attempt to nullify the sale, O'Neill sued HMY in 2007, claiming the brokerage misrepresented the yacht's condition.

Court documents show that HMY attorneys based much of their defense on the "as is" clause in the sale contract, describing the situation as a case of buyer's remorse.

O'Neill's attorneys countered that the "as is" clause was not valid because of several misrepresentations about the boat by HMY, as well as vague language in the contract.

This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue.

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