Most people in California have heard, seen or read reports about the recent fire that struck a dive boat off the shore of Southern California. Tragically, 34 people died in the fire as they were reported to have been unable to flee the burning vessel. All of those who died were paying passengers. The only survivors were the five crewmembers. The fire erupted in the middle of the night when everyone, including the crew, was asleep. The incident is raising many questions about the liability for the fire and the cause of the fire.
As reported by Fox News, a mere three days after the fatal fire, the company that owned the boat filed a lawsuit under the provisions of an 1851 maritime law that would limit any liability on the part of the company for the fire.
This law was first enacted at a time when it was important to find ways to encourage shipping via waterways and reducing boat owners’ liability was seen as a vital means of accomplishing this. Today, however, some are concerned about the relevance of this law and the impact it may have on the ability of families of those who died to seek any compensation. Any person who may be interested in seeking compensation from the owners is allowed the opportunity to challenge the new suit but only has a limited window in which to do so.
Early findings from a National Transportation Safety Board investigation indicate that there was no onboard night watch personnel. ABC News notes that maritime law requires at least one person to be awake onboard a vessel at night.