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 long-term commitment.”
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 responded.
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 agreement.
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 appropriate.
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.