Axess was a 31 ft. Rinker outfitted with Mercury engines that was part of a fractional ownership program run by SailTime Chicago. The member was an owner of the boat and allowed SailTime Chicago to rent out the vessel when not in use. As part of the contract, SailTime was responsible for maintaining Axess. SailTime relied upon Skyway Yacht Works to perform these maintenance services.
The vessel was about seven miles offshore Chicago, IL when a clanking noise was heard. Shortly thereafter the engines failed, and the boat came to an abrupt stop. The high-water alarm sounded, and steam was coming out of the engine compartment. They quickly discovered the boat was taking on water. All persons aboard the vessel quickly went to work; two bailing water, one deploying emergency flares and the fourth attempting to call for help. As they came to the realization that the boat was going to sink, they knew they needed to abandon it. They put on life vests, gathered up flotation cushions, and jumped into Lake Michigan’s 53° water. A male victim was found disoriented and hypothermic around 6 a.m. by a charter boat captain. He was the only survivor.
Inspections of the vessel by several experts determined that the boat sank because of a catastrophic failure of the port side gimbal bearing. Axess was run aground by another SailTime Chicago member in 2012 and was taken to Skyway Yacht Works for inspection and repairs. The repairs performed by Skyway did not include replacement of the port side gimbal bearing. The product safety manager for Mercury Marine, the engine company, stated that the safest and most prudent response would have been for Skyway to replace the transom assembly and its components, including the gimbal bearing. An expert witness stated that if Skyway had replaced the port side transom assembly and gimbal bearing, the sinking of the Axess would not have occurred.
A $27.9 MILLION settlement was reached.
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