Country liable for damages inflicted by the causeway

POSTED: 11/27/15 6:59 PM

Sailing Boat Rental Company wins lawsuit

St. Maarten – The country is liable for damages a sailboat rental company suffered from the construction of the causeway bridge across the Simpson Bay Lagoon, the Court in First Instance ruled on Wednesday. Lagoon Sailboat Rental NV sued the country for $250,000 in damages, but the court took no decision about the amount yet. It sentenced the country to pay damages according to an assessment based on the law.

Lagoon Sailboat Rental operates its company in the Simpson Bay Lagoon since 2002. It rents engineless sailing boats with a cab in per day to tourists. The boats are not seaworthy.

When the Simpson Bay Causeway Bridge officially opened on January 25, 2014, the company could no longer sail the whole lagoon, because the masts of its boats were too tall to pass under the bridge. Around two-third of the lagoon was no longer accessible for the sailing boats. As a result, tourists stayed away and the company’s turnover dropped to zero.

Lagoon Sailboat Rental – represented in this lawsuit by attorney Jairo Bloem – foresaw trouble with the bridge already in 2010, when it began to correspond with the island territory, the St. Maarten Port authority, the Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority ‘corporation (Slac), the harbor group of companies, the ombudsman and the Vromi-ministry about the situation.

The company informed all these entities that it would suffer damages from the construction of the bridge and that it was seeking a solution. The correspondence yielded no results. In the lawsuit, the company holds the country and the Slac responsible for damages. The court found the country responsible and therefore absolved Slac.

The country, by way of its attorney Richard Gibson Jr., dismissed its liability, saying that it had nothing to do with the construction of the causeway bridge. “The country did not take any decisions about the construction of the causeway bridge and it did not instruct nor encourage Slac to do this.”

However, the country did grant the Slac a building permit and also the right of long lease to parcels of water.

The court disagreed with this position. “The causeway bridge is one of the largest infrastructural works in St. Maarten. It cuts through the characteristic Simpson Bay Lagoon and is an important link in the road network. For this reason alone, the court considers it incomprehensible that the country says it had no involvement at all with the construction of the bridge. Generally speaking it is implausible that a central government has nothing to do with such a structure or does not want to have anything to do with it,” Judge Sander van Rijen wrote in his ruling.

The country granted the right of long lease to water parcels. “It is implausible that the country did not realize that a bridge would be constructed there, especially considering the earlier granted building permit. The country knew that the bridge was going to be constructed and it approved of this, otherwise it would not have granted the right of long lease to the water parcels and the building permit.”

Furthermore, the court reasoned, the country is the only (indirect) shareholder in Slac and the Simpson Bay Causeway NV.

The court dismissed the country’s position that Lagoon Sailboat Rental should have filed an appeal against the construction of the bridge. “It has not been stated nor has it appeared that the country has given its citizens, institutions and companies the opportunity to give their vision of the intended construction of the bridge, or to appeal this. That argument does not hold water.”

The court ruled that it is plausible that the rental company suffered damages from the construction of the bridge, but it agreed with the country that the company has not substantiated those damages. There is only an overview of the turnover before 2014, but there are no annual reports, accountant reports or tax returns. The country brought to the court’s attention that, based on internet reports, the company is still active with its fleet in the Dutch part of the lagoon.

Therefore, the court declared itself unable to assess the magnitude of the damages. The court sentenced the country to pay all legal fees for the procedure – a total of almost 7,500 guilders.

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