Home News Dive boat owners seek to head off lawsuits after 34 die in fire – AOL

Dive boat owners seek to head off lawsuits after 34 die in fire – AOL

33 min read
0
43
Loading...
 


LOS ANGELES (AP) — The owners of the dive boat where 34 people perished in a fire off Southern California filed a lawsuit Thursday to head off potentially costly litigation, a move condemned by some observers as disrespectful to the families of the dead.

Truth Aquatics Inc., which owned the Conception, filed the action in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that allows it to limit its liability.

Investigators are still searching for what caused the blaze that wrecked the boat, which remains upside down at the bottom of the sea near the Channel Islands.

The time-tested legal maneuver has been successfully employed by owners of the Titanic and countless other crafts — some as small as Jet Skis — and was widely anticipated by maritime law experts. Still, the fact it was filed just three days after the deadly inferno Monday came as a surprise to legal observers.

Families of the deceased, who are not named in the complaint, will be served with notice that they have a limited time to challenge the company’s effort to clear itself of negligence or limit its liability to the value of the remains of the boat, which is a total loss.

RELATED: Dozens killed after boat catches fire off California coast

17 PHOTOS

Dozens killed after boat catches fire off California coast

See Gallery

In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, VCFD firefighters respond to a boat fire off the coast of southern California, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard said it has launched several boats to help over two dozen people “in distress” off the coast of southern California. (Ventura County Fire Department via AP)

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, firefighters work to extinguish a dive boat engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast Monday morning, Sept. 2, 2019. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, VCFD firefighters respond to a boat fire off the coast of southern California, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard said it has launched several boats to help over two dozen people “in distress” off the coast of southern California. (Ventura County Fire Department via AP)

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department a dive boat is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast Monday morning, Sept. 2, 2019. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, VCFD firefighters respond to a boat fire off the coast of southern California, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard said it has launched several boats to help over two dozen people “in distress” off the coast of southern California. (Ventura County Fire Department via AP)

A memorial outside Truth Aquatics for the victims of the Conception boat fire, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. A fire raged through a boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California coast early Monday, leaving multiple people dead and hope diminishing that any of the more than two dozen people still missing would be found alive. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

Orlando Aldana, 42, of Santa Barbara, lights candles in honor of the victims at the growing memorial for those caught in the fire on the Conception boat, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, in Santa Barbara, Calif. A fire raged through the boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California coast early Monday, leaving multiple people dead and hope diminishing that any of the more than two dozen people still missing would be found alive. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

JJ Lambert, 38, and his fiancee, Jenna Marsala, 33, hang up a dive flag in remembrance of the victims of the Conception boat fire at a memorial site on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, in Santa Barbara, Calif. A fire raged through the boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California coast early Monday, leaving multiple people dead and hope diminishing that any of the more than two dozen people still missing would be found alive. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

A Ventura County Fire Department truck leaves U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

An FBI agent arrives at U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, as multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

FBI and Coast Guard personnel work together at U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, as multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

A woman is comforted by a member of the Ventura County Fire department at U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast, according to the Coast Guard. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester, right, addresses the media at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands base in Oxnard, Calif. Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. A dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. Several crew members were rescued and Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll told The Associated Press the Coast Guard was searching for others who may have been able to escape the fire by jumping from the boat. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

CALIFORNIA shaded relief map, highlighted with SACRAMENTO (capital) and fire locators, partial graphic

Coast Guard crews leave the US Coast Guard Station Channel Islands as they head out to the scene of the boat that burned and sank off the Santa Cruz islands early in the morning at the Coast Guard base in Oxnard, California on September 2, 2019. – A commercial scuba-dive boat sank amid intense flames early off the coast of Southern California and 34 passengers were unaccounted for, the US Coast Guard said. Five Conception crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters in a televised briefing. She said 34 people — not the 33 reported earlier by the Coast Guard — were unaccounted for when the Conception sank 20 yards (meters) offshore, leaving only its bow exposed. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Coast Guard crews leave the US Coast Guard Station Channel Islands as they head out to the scene of the boat that burned and sank off the Santa Cruz islands early in the morning at the Coast Guard base in Oxnard, California on September 2, 2019. – A commercial scuba-dive boat sank amid intense flames early off the coast of Southern California and 34 passengers were unaccounted for, the US Coast Guard said. Five Conception crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters in a televised briefing. She said 34 people — not the 33 reported earlier by the Coast Guard — were unaccounted for when the Conception sank 20 yards (meters) offshore, leaving only its bow exposed. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

A Coast Guard crew leaves the US Coast Guard Station Channel Islands as they head out to the scene of the boat that burned and sank off the Santa Cruz islands early in the morning at the Coast Guard base in Oxnard, California on September 2, 2019. – A commercial scuba-dive boat sank amid intense flames early off the coast of Southern California and 34 passengers were unaccounted for, the US Coast Guard said. Five Conception crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters in a televised briefing. She said 34 people — not the 33 reported earlier by the Coast Guard — were unaccounted for when the Conception sank 20 yards (meters) offshore, leaving only its bow exposed. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)




HIDE CAPTION

SHOW CAPTION

of


SEE ALL


BACK TO SLIDE

“They’re forcing these people to bring their claims and bring them now,” said attorney Charles Naylor, who represents victims in maritime law cases. “They have six months to do this. They could let these people bury their kids. This is shocking.”

Professor Martin J. Davies, the maritime law director at Tulane University, said the cases always follow accidents at sea and always look bad, but they are usually initiated by insurance companies to limit losses.

“It seems like a pretty heartless thing to do, but that’s what always happens. They’re just protecting their position,” Davies said. “It produces very unpleasant results in dramatic cases like this one. … The optics are awful.”

The U.S. law dates to 1851, but it has its origins in 18th century England, Davies said. It was designed to encourage the shipping business. Every country with a shipping industry has something similar on the books.

In order to prevail, the company and owners Glen and Dana Fritzler have to show they were not at fault in the disaster.

They asserted in the lawsuit that they “used reasonable care to make the Conception seaworthy, and she was, at all relevant times, tight, staunch, and strong, fully and properly manned, equipped and supplied and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the service in which she was engaged.”

Even if the captain or crew are found at fault, the Fritzler’s and their insurance company could avoid paying a dime under the law, experts said.

All of those who died were in a bunkroom below the main deck. Officials have said the 33 passengers and one crewmember had no ability to escape the flames.

Crew members told investigators they made several attempts to rescue the people who were trapped before abandoning ship, the National Transportation Safety Board said. None of the survivors has spoken publicly.

The court filing not only seeks to protect the boat owners from legal exposure, but also will require any lawsuits to be filed in the same federal court.

A judge will hold a non-jury trial to see if the company can successfully show it wasn’t at fault. If that’s the case, any claimants would only be entitled to the value of the remains of the ship, which the suit said is a total loss with zero value.

There’s a long history of ship owners successfully asserting this protection. The case involving the White Star Line, the owners of the Titanic, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that a foreign owner could assert protection of the Limitation Act, attorney James Mercante said.

In that case, plaintiffs eventually withdrew their lawsuits and filed them in England, where the company was based. British law, even though it also limited damages, provided a bigger payout than the value of the remaining lifeboats.

While the law can shield owners from damages, over 90% of cases where injury and death are involved are settled before trial, Mercante said.

Attorney A. Barry Cappello, who is in discussions with another firm to represent family members of the Conception victims in court, said there’s a strong case to show negligence in the boat fire and that good lawyers can find a way around the admiralty law in federal court.

“The law is so antiquated and so skewed in favor of the ship owners that damages for wrongful death type cases is very limited unless one can prove exceptions,” Cappello said.

Cappello recently prevailed in a case in which a company that rented a paddleboard to a man who drowned in Santa Barbara Harbor had asserted the liability protection. A judge ruled the admiralty law didn’t extend to such crafts, though the company has appealed.

Davies said from what he’s heard of the disaster, there’s a realistic prospect the owner might prevail if the boat was properly equipped and the cause of the fire remains mysterious.

If the owner loses, there’s the potential of unlimited liability.

“That’s why the fight is always about limitation because if you’ve got unlimited liability, well, … 30 dead people is a whole lot of money,” Davies said.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Loading...
 

Check Also

Gunman at Hospital in Czech Republic Kills at Least 6 – The New York Times

Loading...   PRAGUE — An attacker shot and killed six people and seriously injured tw…