A 2014 Lake Michigan boating death, which already gave rise
to one lawsuit, is at the center of a counterclaim action filed Dec. 9 in Cook
County Circuit Court, as the parent organization for a Chicago area
boat-sharing group has filed suit to ask a judge to declare it should not be forced to share in the defense against the lawsuit over the boating accident.
On Sept. 28, 2015, Tamara Sopka, sister of Orest Sopka,
filed a wrongful death complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Creative
Yacht Management Inc., a company doing business as SailTime Chicago, a Crystal
Lake-based boat-sharing club that advertises it offers members boating
instruction and “access to a luxury yacht without the usual expenses and
That complaint centers on the May 31, 2014, boating accident
that claimed the lives of Sopka, 30, and two other passengers, Ashley Haws, 26,
and Megan Blenner, 26, who had been among four passengers aboard a motorboat
that sank near Chicago. According to the complaint and reports published by
various Chicago news outlets following the incident, the boaters were sailing
from New Buffalo, Mich., back to Chicago aboard the Axess, a 33-foot Rinker
motorboat. According to public records, the boat’s listed owner was Axess
Holding Company LLC, a corporate entity under the management of Orest Sopka.
The complaint and the published reports indicated Orest
Sopka was a SailTime member and agreed to allow the Axess to be rented through
the program when he was not using it himself. As part of the program, SailTime Chicago
agreed to oversee maintenance and care of the boat, the complaint asserted.
According to the complaint and published news reports, the boat’s engine
encountered a mechanical problem while nearing Chicago, causing the engine to
catch fire and the boat’s bilge pump to fail. The craft took on water.
Published reports indicated the boat’s radio was not working, and the craft was
too far out from shore to obtain cell phone service to call for help. The
reports indicated the passengers also fired flares, but no one on shore
In the Dec. 9 action, SailTime Group, though attorneys
Nielsen, Zehe & Antas, filed a counterclaim against Creative Yacht
Management based on terms of the franchise agreement allowing Creative Yacht
Management to operate as SailTime Chicago. According to the counterclaim, Creative
Yacht Management was obligated to indemnify SailTime Group and hold it harmless
in the wrongful death suit, and either defend or settle the claim at its own
expense. Failure to do so gives rise to a breach of contract claim and a
request the court order Creative Yacht Management to adhere to the terms of the
The counterclaim further said Creative Yacht Management failed
to properly maintain business insurance, in that any policy should have named
SailTime Group as an additional insured party. As such, SailTime Group wants
the court to compel Creative Yacht Management to assume all costs incurred in
defense of the wrongful death suit.
SailTime Group also detailed the ways it alleges Creative
Yacht Management failed to properly inspect and maintain the Axess as required
through a boat management agreement. Should Sopka win in the wrongful death
suit, according to the counterclaim, the Illinois Joint Tortfeasor Contribution
Act would entitle SailTime Group to a contribution from Creative Yacht
Management based on the percentage its liability or fault contributed to Orest
Sopka’s injury or death. The counterclaim asks the court to formally establish
that contribution in a court order, as well as any other relief deemed
Sopka’s wrongful death complaint includes two counts of
negligence and wrongful death against both Creative Yacht Management and Skyway
Yacht Works. Sopka’s family seeks damages of more than $50,000.
Sopka is represented in the action by the firm of Cooney
& Conway, of Chicago.
Creative Yacht Management is represented by the firm of
Novack and Macey LLP, of Chicago.