Filing also challenges "outrageous" claim of immunity from monetary damages
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 13, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Leading maritime-disaster trial lawyers from Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, P.C. (SMBB), and Panish Shea & Boyle LLP (PSB), today jointly announced the filing in Federal court of wrongful death and survival action claims on behalf of three passengers and one crew member killed in the Labor Day 2019 MV Conception commercial dive-boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara, the worst such disaster in U.S. maritime history. Today's filings are the most comprehensive to date. They asserted that the massive inferno, likely caused by an unsafe lithium-ion-battery charging station, was foreseeable and preventable in part due to the failing to have a mandatory overnight safety watch.
Announced by attorneys Robert J. Mongeluzzi and Jeffrey P. Goodman, of Philadelphia's SMBB, along with Robert Glassman, of Los Angeles-based PSB, the filings (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California: No: 2:19-cv-07693 PA (MRWx), which include claims for punitive damages, were filed on behalf of:
- Dr. Sanjeeri Deopujari, 31, a family dentist in Norwalk, Connecticut and her husband, Kaustbh Nirmal, 33, a financial analyst in New York.
- Yulia Krashennaya, 40, of Berkeley, California, shared with her partner, Daniel Garcia, also killed in the fire, an insatiable love of SCUBA and underwater photography. She worked as a product manager in Silicon Valley.
- Alexandra "Allie" Kurtz, 26, an Illinois native who moved to California. She was an exuberant member of the crew, proficient diver and poet, who was planning on studying marine biology in graduate school. Prior to coming on board, she worked as a production assistant in the film industry.
Today's filing was an Answer to the Complaint filed by Conception's owners, Truth Aquatics, Inc., Glen Richard Fritzler and Dana Jeanne Fritzler, individually and as trustees of the Fritzler Family Trust, as well as a claim by the victims. The claimants were among the 34 individuals asleep below deck, directly beneath the heavily-used battery charging station in the galley. Due to the vessel's inadequate life-safety system design, including woeful means of ingress and egress, the victims were trapped and unable to escape when the fire erupted about 3:15 a.m.
The filings document that the 75-foot, 41-year-old vessel was in blatant violation of numerous Coast Guard regulations, including failing to maintain an overnight "roving" safety watch and failure to provide a safe means for storing and charging lithium-ion batteries.
On September 5th - less than three full days after the fire - lawyers for the vessel's owner filed for protection under an archaic 1851 act designed to protect the shipping industry. Their filing occurred before the last bodies were recovered by divers.
Mr. Mongeluzzi, a co-founder of SMBB, at today's news conference announcing the filing, said, "The defendants killed these victims by breaking the law and failing to have a roving night watch whose job was to prevent the very catastrophe that occurred. Rather than mourn those whose lives they took with their failure to obey the law, they lawyered up and mercilessly filed an action to limit their liability before many of the bodies of these victims were even recovered. We will demolish their frivolous limitation of liability claim and hold them accountable for the outrageous harm they have caused."
Mr. Goodman, partner at SMBB, said, "Lithium-ion batteries pose an extreme fire risk. Vessel owners and operators need to take safety precautions to ensure that a fire doesn't start, spread, and kill. Given the lax safety policies and safety enforcement at Truth Aquatics, it was only a matter of time before tragedy struck. We fully expect this litigation will put Truth Aquatics out of business and send a message to the maritime industry that safety must always come before profits."
Mr. Glassman, attorney at PSB, said, "Make no mistake, the owners of the Conception were responsible for providing a safe, seaworthy vessel and failed to do so. In the aftermath of this tragedy, all deserve to know what went fatally wrong and that our justice system works in holding accountable those responsible for the wrongful deaths of 34 people. Through discovery, we intend to determine, for instance, why the Conception had non-compliant escape hatches in the event of an emergency, among what appears to be a litany of safety lapses. The family members, who are still grieving and in shock, want to express their deepest gratitude to all of the first responders for their efforts, to the people in and around Santa Barbara, and to the well-wishers from around the world whose support is a source of strength. Above all, the families of the victims, and those that represent them, want to make sure that what happened to their loved ones on the Conception can never happen again."
The attorneys noted that their clients have requested that their privacy be respected and, at present, are granting no interview requests. Any information requests going forward should be made through counsel, whose contact information is provided below.
SMBB (www.smbb.com) and PSB (www.psblaw.com) are among the nation's premier catastrophic personal injury law firms, whose litany of major cases include maritime disasters, from duck boats on lakes and rivers to cruise ships at sea. SMBB most recently represents numerous victims of the 2018 Branson, Missouri duck boat disaster that resulted in 17 deaths. In that case the firm successfully argued that the 1851 Limitation of Liability Act did not apply to the boat's owner. PSB, as part of its wide-ranging plaintiff's practice, presently serves as lead counsel in both the Thomas Fire and Woolsey Fire litigations in Southern California as well as lead trial counsel in litigation against Southern California Gas Company, representing thousands of victims of the 2015 Aliso Canyon Gas Leak in Porter Ranch, California.
Attorneys E. Douglas DiSandro, Jr., of SMBB, as well as Brian Panish of PSB, are members of the Plaintiffs' legal team.
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SOURCE Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett, & Bendesky, P.C.; Panish Shea & Boyle LLP