California Boat That Caught Fire in September Killing 34 Leaves Company Facing Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Following the September 2019 fire off the coast of Southern California that killed 34 passengers, personal injury attorneys representing families of the deceased are proceeding with wrongful death lawsuits claiming that the boat’s owners and captain allowed the deadly events to transpire through their negligence.
Wrongful death lawsuits have been filed on behalf of three passengers and a crew member who died in the fire. The lawsuits claim that the boat company owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler, are the negligent parties. The Fritzlers are the owners of Truth Aquatics, the company under which the boat operated. Prior to the recent wrongful death filings, the Fritzlers filed their own lawsuit in federal court to limit their liability for the fire. Their claim in the lawsuit cited maritime law from 1851, which they believe should effectively reduce the financial damages in the case, or absolve them completely of responsibility.
ABC News reported that the Fritzlers’ petition was filed “before some of the bodies had even been recovered from the ocean.”
Robert Mongeluzzi and Jeff Goodman are two personal injury attorneys representing the families in the wrongful death suits. They consider the maritime law cited in the Fritzlers’ petition to be not only ancient, but essentially obsolete and inapplicable under current law. They claim the law from 1851 does not apply in this specific case because Truth Aquatics was aware of the safety hazards on the boat before setting sail on that fateful September evening. Mongeluzzi and Goodman claim that Truth Aquatics failed to provide “night watchmen” as required by law, and additionally failed to provide adequate preventative equipment options to stave off fires where electronic equipment such as cell phones were being charged on the night of the incident.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) initial report found that all crew members were asleep when the fire started. Federal law requires that at least one crew member must be awake at all times on a commercial boat.
Mongeluzzi issued a statement asserting, “This was a heartless, callous act which inflicted further pain on these families.” Fellow attorney Goodman echoed that sentiment, stating, “There are numerous ways that a responsible company can make sure this doesn’t occur.”
According to investigators the fire broke out around 3:15 a.m. on Sept. 2. At the time, the boat was off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. The fire spread quickly and both passengers and crew members located in the sleeping quarters were unable to escape and perished. The only survivors included the captain and four crew members. Said survivors had been sleeping in the top section of the boat. The fire burned the boat’s frame so significantly that it eventually sank.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is currently continuing its active investigation led by a specialized team. Initially, the primary cause of the fire was attributed to an electrical malfunction with the lithium ion batteries that were charging both personal electronic devices like cell phones and diving equipment such as cameras and lights.
The attorneys representing the families intend to prove through court proceedings that the company’s employees were aware that the boat was unsafe, and the captain should therefore be charged with seaman’s manslaughter, with the possibility for additional charges.
PINews attempted to reach both the captain of the boat and the owners of Truth Aquatics for comment, but have yet to receive a response. Updates will be provided as this matter progresses, as additional wrongful death lawsuits are anticipated to be filed by families of the victims in the near future.