Florida brokerage found liable for misrepresentation

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A Fort Lauderdale yacht 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 "unseaworthy."

HMY Yacht Sales, which brokered the $2.3 million sale, was found liable for negligent misrepresentation by a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale last week, The Miami Herald reports. Jim Barboni, the HMY broker who led the deal, also was found liable of negligent misrepresentation and ordered to pay $100,000, court documents show.

The jury, however, did not find the defendants guilty of fraudulently inducing the plaintiff, nor were they found guilty of violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

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 went to South Florida to purchase the 2005 66-foot sportfishing boat in March 2007 after seeing an HMY ad on the Internet 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, the newspaper reports.

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," according to the newspaper report. O'Neill said he had the boat surveyed again after arriving in Rhode Island, and a naval architect deemed the boat "structurally unsound" and "unseaworthy."

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 contained in the sale contract, describing the situation as a case of buyer's remorse.

A representative of HMY could not be reached for comment by Soundings Trade Only.

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.

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