Runaway Restaurant

Adrift on the Ohio River

In mid-March, one of greater Cincinnati’s beloved floating restaurants—the Waterfront—partially broke from its moorings and floated downriver 85 yards. It was stopped from floating farther and hitting a bridge by a mooring cable. More than 80 diners, including “Sunday Night Football” Commentator Cris Collinsworth, were trapped onboard.

The Waterfront was the only restaurant located on the Ohio River in the Cincinnati, Ohio area that was open during this time because the river was above flood stage. Reportedly, the waters were three feet above flood level at the time. The restaurant had a special walkway that allowed patrons to board even when the river level is high.

On the Monday morning following the weekend accident, a few colleagues were discussing the incident and sought the knowledge of the FC&S staff for answers. They wondered, “if the flooding caused the barge holding the restaurant to break from its moorings, would insurance coverage be available to the owners?”

Not knowing exactly what type of insurance covers this floating restaurant, we can only speculate as to whether the event would be covered.

If the owners carried hull insurance, then flood would not be excluded. Hull insurance typically covers perils of the sea—causes of loss that are particular to bodies of water, which would include high water levels.

While no one was injured and it appears the runaway restaurant-barge did not cause any damage to other boats or structures, this event prompts some other possible claim scenarios and coverage questions that could arise.

Several liability exposures are apparent in the restaurant’s situation. Had diners been injured when the restaurant broke free, the owner could be held liable for such injuries. If the restaurant had struck another structure or a vessel, then the owner could also be held liable for the ensuing property damage.

Would P&I Pay?
Protection and indemnity (P&I) polices would address most of the liability issues encountered by the restaurant gone astray. P&I insurance is provided by a P&I club or an insurance carrier. Clubs are controlled by the insured vessel owners and usually provide high limits of liability while the carrier-provided coverage is mainly for smaller vessels.

Most P&I policies provide broad coverage for loss of life, injury, and illness. Luckily the Waterfront’s escape did not injure anyone, but if a diner had suffered injuries or illness because of the occurrence, P&I insurance would have kicked in. Hospital, medical, and funeral expenses are often included.

Likewise, if the mooring cable had not caught the barge in time and it had struck a bridge, the restaurant owner’s P&I insurance (provided it contained customary provisions) would respond.

But what if the restaurant had collided with a barge or a boat on the river? This type of loss may be excluded from P&I coverage if it is the subject of hull coverage. It could be covered on the P&I form if excluded from the hull policy.

Another possibility to consider is that if the owner was negligent for opening its doors to patrons when the river was above flood stage. Although the determination of liability would be up to a court to determine, if the owner were found to be negligent, the P&I form would respond.

In a strange coincidence, the former owners of another floating restaurant near Cincinnati—which sank several years ago—were dining at the Waterfront the night it broke free. Had the Waterfront met the same fate as the customers’ restaurant, P&I insurance would pay the costs to remove the wreckage if the sinking were caused by the owner’s negligence. If the owner’s negligence caused another vessel to sink, then P&I would cover that loss as well.

As can be seen from the Waterfront’s mishap, floating businesses carry a unique set of exposures that most companies do not face, but that can be nevertheless be addressed via marine insurance coverage.

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