One of the toughest parts about being a Maritime practitioner is hearing all the sad stories of people being injured or killed due to the negligence or fault of another. We unfortunately heard another one of these stories out of New York.
Boating accidents can be caused by several factors. Sometimes, the accidents are the result of unforeseeable circumstances such as sudden changes in weather or a rogue wave, while other times, they are caused by another individual or company’s negligence. We have yet to see what a jury will find to be the cause of a recent boat accident in New York, which claimed the lives of two victims, after a widower decided to take legal action.
The widower, Brian Bond, who lost his bride-to-be and best man in a boating accident in July, has sued a boat operator and a barge builder for their role in the tragic incident. But the man is just one of several plaintiffs who have filed civil lawsuits against the company building the new Tappan Zee Bridge in the city.
Bond filed a civil lawsuit on Monday, claiming that three barges moored just south of the bridge were not clearly visible on the night of the accident. Another individual who survived a boating accident, John Schumacher, also filed a lawsuit the same day, and the estates of Lindsey Stewart, 30, and Mark Lennon, 30, also took similar legal action.
All four lawsuits are seeking damages from Tappan Zee Constructors (TZC) and their four subsidiaries, along with Jojo John, the co-owner and operator of the 19-foot-long powerboat the victims were riding in when it crashed into the barge, the boat co-owner Anthony Amendola, and McDonough Marine Service, which leases barges.
It is unclear who is at fault for the accident. The barge construction company that allegedly did not provide sufficient lighting for the barges to be seen at night, or the boat operator, who has been accused of boating while intoxicated (BUI).
John’s blood alcohol level was taken after the accident, and it was determined to have been twice the legal limit (0.08 percent). Toxicology reports also showed there were traces of cocaine in his system.
Last week, John pleaded not guilty to charges of first- and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, negligent homicide and BUI, and is scheduled to return to court Jan. 3. Though it may be some time before the victims get justice, it’s clear that the suspect was highly intoxicated on the night of the crash, and his actions may have very well contributed to the accident, whether the barge was visible or not.
Intoxication is one of the leading causes of boating accidents in the United States. Consuming alcohol is much more dangerous in the open waters than on land because several factors exacerbate the rate of inebriation. The wind and rocking of the vessel contribute to the speed at which an individual becomes drunk, and the individual may not even realize it. Just one drink can affect a boat operator to the point they can cause an accident.
However, it is clear that the suspect was well past the limit of intoxication. Adding cocaine to the mix, he was clearly in no condition to operate the powerboat.
Yet, Bond’s attorney in the case has placed the blame on the construction company for failing to ensure the barges were visible. The company had already received a notice over visibility issues weeks before the crash. According to the plaintiff’s defense, nobody, “sober or otherwise, would have been able to see the barge.” The company also added LED lights just days after the crash, which prosecutors are claiming is an admission of guilt.
However, TZC ran its own investigation and, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, concluded that the barges were, in fact, properly moored and sufficiently lighted.
Everyone involved in the crash suffered injuries, but Bond, more so than anyone else. He lost his bride-to-be just two weeks before the wedding as well as his best man. He also sustained a fractured eye socket, which had to be reconstructed using meal plates, along with injuries to his arms.
It may be a while before the case concludes, but it seems, upon first glance, that several factors were at play. It will be interesting to see whether John, who was obviously operating the vessel under the influence of alcohol and narcotics, or the barge constructors who allegedly didn’t provide sufficient lighting for the boaters, is to blame.
It’s critical that the victims retained attorneys to help them navigate such a complex case. Anytime a boating accident occurs, blame can be placed on several individuals, but an experienced boating accident lawyer will know what the real cause behind the incident is. Experienced Maritime Attorneys understand maritime and admiralty laws and can help victims obtain the justice they deserve, so it’s important for victims to contact a lawyer as quickly as possible to discuss their rights and case options.