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August 19, 2014

Myrtle Beach tourism leader says sailboat could not have created accident that sparked lawsuit

Myrtle Beach tourism leader Matthew Brittain, accused in a lawsuit of causing a boating accident that led to the amputation of a teenage girl’s thumb, said his yacht – the Epiphany – could not have been at fault because it doesn’t travel fast enough to create the kind of wake described in court documents.

Myrtle Beach tourism leader Matthew Brittain, accused in a lawsuit of causing a boating accident that led to the amputation of a teenage girl’s thumb, said his yacht – the Epiphany – could not have been at fault because it doesn’t travel fast enough to create the kind of wake described in court documents.

However, a lawyer representing the girl and her mother says he has photographic evidence of the Epiphany’s wake and the resulting damage.

“Suffice it to say, there are photographs of it,” said Paul Gibson, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Georgetown County resident Mary Hope Georgino, the mother of the 14-year-old girl.

The lawsuit is pending and no court dates have been set.

Brittain, the managing partner of Brittain Resort Management in Myrtle Beach, said his yacht “is a sailboat, and its hull shape and design does not produce a large wake.”

“It does not have a planing hull, like a motor boat,” he said.

Brittain said he has hired a lawyer and will respond to the legal complaint, which was filed last month in federal court in Charleston.

Gibson filed court documents this week seeking to seize the Epiphany under maritime law. That has led to an agreement between both sides in which Brittain will post a bond equal to the value of the boat – approximately $500,000, according to Gibson – to avoid its seizure.

“The recent filings to effect ‘seizure’ of the yacht are just a formality – the vessel should not be seized,” Brittain said.

Gibson said the Epiphany has a displacement hull, which plows through water rather than skimming along the water’s surface like a planing hull boat. Boats with displacement hulls do not need to reach high speeds in order to create wakes, he said.

“The maximum speed on this type of boat is limited by hull speed which is calculated by a mathematical formula,” Gibson said. “The wake is produced by driving the boat at or near hull speed, which is a relatively low speed.”

The Epiphany’s manufacturer specifications show the boat has a hull speed of 8.7 knots, or about 10 miles per hour.

According to the complaint, the 14-year-old girl was a passenger on her father’s boat, which was in the process of being moored and rafted alongside several other vessels during a May 25 event in Murrells Inlet for the Wounded Warriors Foundation.

“Suddenly, and without warning, Brittain came through the harbor operating the Epiphany at a high rate of speed close to the nearby moored and rafted boats,” the lawsuit states. “Despite numerous calls to slow down, [the Epiphany’s] speed and proximity caused a huge wake that caused several other boats to rock violently and then fled the scene.”

The 14-year-old girl’s hand was resting on the side of her father’s boat and the force of the collision caused by the Epiphany’s wake caused her hand to be crushed between two boats, the lawsuit states. The girl’s hand was severely injured and her right thumb was eventually amputated.

Georgino is seeking unspecified actual and punitive damages.

Gibson told The Sun News that Brittain was identified as the boat’s operator based on photographs taken at the scene.

The Epiphany is a boat with a 48.5-foot hull manufactured in 1990 by Hinckley Yachts, according to public records. The boat is owned by Murrells Inlet Epiphany Inc. Clay Brittain III is the registered agent for that corporation.

Brittain Resort Management is one of the Myrtle Beach area’s largest lodging companies, with ownership or management interests in more than a dozen properties. It also is a partner in National Golf Management, which owns or manages about two dozen local golf courses.

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