This is an “I told you so.”
More than a year before the NTSB ruled on the cause of the 33 deaths on the dive boat Conception, on September 4, 2019, two days after the fire and sinking, I published my evaluation on the cause and the responsibility for these deaths.
My opinion was based on substantial experience representing survivors of fires and the families of those killed by fires and several years prosecuting the owners of ships under maritime law for injuries to crew members and deaths onboard ships under the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act.
That experience was basis for the following conclusion on the deaths occurring on the Conception:
- “On the Conception, in all probability if one exit had been directly to the open deck, lives would have been saved. All that we know is that the crew’s quarters were above the fire and they all escaped. . . . a separate escape path would have made a difference . . . .” A secure exit would have precluded a fire that would “engulf both exits from the sleeping hold below making it impossible to escape.”
- “When it comes to ships at sea, an owner has an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy ship, one that is reasonably fit in all respects to encounter the perils of the seas. * * Fire at sea is a well-recognized peril common to all vessels and the implied warranty of seaworthiness requires the owner to exercise the highest standard of care in the operation of a ship to protect against fire.”
On October 20, 2020 the National Transportation Safety Board unanimously ruled that the 33 deaths on September 2, 2019 were caused by the ship’s owner. The cause was poor emergency escape arrangements and the failure to assign a crew member to be standing fire watch for the protection of passengers. The NTSB got it right.
The law imposes liability for defective conditions on a vessel that kill, as well as for an incompetent crew, both of which combined in this case to end the lives of 33 people enjoying a holiday.
Sadly, this tragedy is compounded by the owners not having sufficient insurance or resources to fully compensate the 33 surviving families for the emptiness, emotional and financial losses they have suffered and will suffer for years.
While the District Attorney will prosecute these manslaughters, the criminal law provides minimal solace for losses of this horrendous magnitude. Criminal prosecutions will have a major impact on the safe operation of vessels providing services to the public and will redouble inspections by owners, the Coast Guard and private insurers. That will make a difference for public safety.
Contact Our San Jose Personal Injury Attorneys for Immediate Help
Alexander Law Group, LLP attorneys are available to answer questions and share our knowledge of the law and the results of our research and experience. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to make a difference for our clients. Every day we deal with a range of health and safety issues that most people do not encounter until after an injury occurs. As safety lawyers we are committed to providing our clients and the public with information for safer and healthier living. Call 888-777-1776 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.