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Articles Posted in Maritime Wrongful Death

FindIsablla-300x300The FBI and U.S. Coast Guard are investigating the disappearance of a 41-year-old Florida woman 100 km off Key West. Isabella Hellman and her husband, Lewis Bennett, married in February and departed on a Caribbean vacation on their 37-foot catamaran with planned stops in St. Maarten and Cuba as part of a belated honeymoon.

According to Bennett, the couple left Cuba at about 5:30 p.m. on May 14 and were 60 miles off the Florida Keys when their boat struck an unknown object and began taking water. Bennett claims he was asleep while his wife was on watch and he was awakened by a collision at approximately 1:00 a.m. Per Bennett, Hellman was nowhere to be found leaving him no choice but to jump onto a lifeboat and call for help. The Coast Guard briefly inspected the boat and searched for Hellman for three days with no luck. Earlier this week, the Coast Guard reported that they lost track of the boat even though they had attached a beacon to it to not lose track of it.

Per reports, Hellman and Bennett often argued about the raising of their nine-month old daughter, Emelia, and about moving to Australia, which Bennett insisted upon but Hellman refused.

Rivero-19-Killed-in-Boating-Accident-300x199Chance Rivero, a 19-year-old Vero Beach resident was killed Saturday night when the boat he was a passenger of hit a channel marker, ejecting him from it and into the water.  Per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation the boat, the 17-foot Carolina Skiff was carrying six people on board, heading north in the Indian River Lagoon, when it struck an Intracoastal Waterway channel marker a mile south of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge.  After the impact, Rivero was thrown into the water and the boat was able to turn around and pull him out of the lagoon.  Michael Ketcham, 20, was also injured in the mishap sustaining lacerations on his spleen and other potential internal injuries.  Although the accident is still under investigation, it appears to be alcohol related.  We extend our deepest condolences to Rivero’s family and loved ones and wish Ketcham a speedy recovery.

 

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Photo credit: JON LEVY/AFP/Getty Images

On July 17, 1996, at approximately 8:30 p.m., a Boeing 747-131 aircraft, operated by Trans World Airlines as TWA Flight 800, departed from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City for Rome, Italy, carrying 230 passengers and crew.  As the aircraft flew over the ocean near Long Island, all radio communications abruptly ceased and the flight data recorder stopped recording data. The pilot of an Eastwind Airlines Boeing 737 reported seeing TWA Flight 800 suddenly explode, break apart in mid-flight, and crash in to the sea.  All 230 passengers and crew onboard the aircraft perished.

The TWA Flight 800 tragedy captured the attention of the American public and Congress and ultimately resulted in the passage of what is known as the Commercial Aviation Exception to the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) or 46 U.S.C. § 30307. The Commercial Aviation Exception made damages for loss of care, comfort and companionship, known as nonpecuniary damages, for wrongful death of a decedent recoverable if the death resulted from a commercial aviation accident occurring on the high seas. The stated purpose of the bill was to help ensure that families of airline accident victims would receive fair treatment under the law regardless of where the accident occurred.

Jones_Act_Status_LawAn interesting case has been decided as to whether a pleasure yacht captain properly alleged Jones Act seaman status entitling him to seek damages under the federal personal injury statute as well as the maritime law maintenance and cure obligation.  The captain started working aboard the private pleasure yacht in 2010 to perform maintenance and repair jobs on the yacht.  He was eventually hired to take over the position of the yacht’s captain on a part-time basis in additions to his general maintenance and repair duties.  In late 2014, the part-time captain position became full-time.  Under the terms of the employment agreement, he was paid a salary of $3,500 per month and lived aboard the yacht.  As the yacht’s master, he operated the vessel during moves to Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina for boat shows and prepared the yacht for visits by the owners.  On April 25, 2016, while preparing to move the yacht from Hilton Head Island to Charleston, when he fell approximately 7 feet onto the concrete dock and landed on his elbows.  Injuries sustained from the fall required multiple surgeries.  He was terminated two months later.

The captain filed a lawsuit against his employer for failure to pay maintenance and cure and for damages arising out of the negligent failure to provide medical treatment under the Jones Act. The employer moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that the complaint failed to plead facts in support of his status as a seaman under the Jones Act.

Legal Analysis

Passenger-Overboard-Royal-Caribbean-Cruise-Ship-300x225In July 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (“CVSSA”); legislation designed to improve the security and safety of passengers aboard cruise ships.  Under the CVSSA, vessels are required “to integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers who have fallen overboard, to the extent that such technology is available.”  Such requirements were to take effect 18 months after the date of the enactment of the CVSSA on or about January, 2012.  To date it is clear that cruise lines have been resistant to implementing man overboard systems.  Since the enactment of the CVSSA, there have been approximately 143 persons reported to have fallen overboard from cruise ships.  In 2017 alone, there have been 11 reported cases.

Cruise lines such as Celebration Cruise Line, claim that the Coast Guard does not enforce the CVSSA § 3507(a)(1)(D) provision and therefore compliance is optional.  Varner v. Celebration Cruise Operator, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137588 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2016).  Disney Cruise Line is the only major cruise company that appears to have integrated an automatic man overboard system while most cruise lines still only rely on safety railings, unmonitored surveillance cameras, eyewitness accounts, and reports by family members or others that a person is missing.  Automatic man overboard systems notify the crew when a person has fallen overboard and are equipped with radar and sensors to establish a perimeter around a ship. In the absence of automatic systems, by the time a person is reported missing and a search of the ship is completed including review of closed-circuit TV video, critical time has passed, often many hours, making it practically impossible to find people that have gone overboard.

Two incidents in the past week involving passengers going overboard of cruise ships, show the difference an automatic man overboard system can make.  On May 5, 2017, a 61-year-old American man who was travelling alone on-board the Golden Princess cruise ship during a 13-day sailing through the South Pacific went missing.  A steward became concerned about the man’s whereabouts and a thorough search of the cruise ship including review of the CCTV video failed to find the man.  Thus, the incident is being treated as a man overboard incident.

On May 4, 2017, a man went overboard during a four-night sailing through the Bahamas on-board the Disney Dream.  The man went overboard in the early evening and it was immediately noticed by the staff on the ship.  Per reports, the U.S. Coast Guard arrived about 45 minutes later and the man was rescued after about 90 minutes and provided medical attention.

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According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Dr. Thomas Connelly, a 68-year-old man and resident of Stuart, Florida in Martin County was windsurfing and heading south on the east side of the Stuart Causeway.  Bobby Ray Hall Jr., a 50-year-old man of Little River, South Carolina, was driving a 21-foot Sea King center console boat heading southwest toward the causeway from the eastside of the water way and was accompanied by a 12-year-old boy.

While traveling about a half-mile north of the causeway, the windsurfer and the vessel collided.  The operator of the vessel, Mr. Hall stopped and pulled Dr. Connelly out of the water and began administering CRP while returning to the Indian River Plantation dock.   Thereafter, Dr. Connelly was transported to Martin Memorial North Hospital, where he died.

Per news sources, Dr. Connelly was a dermatologist practicing skin cancer surgery and he reportedly treated over 75,000 cases of skin cancer.  Dr. Connelly is also described as a pillar of the Stuart community.

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Photo: Facebook

Reco Scott a 32-year-old man from Decatur, Georgia on board the Carnival Liberty cruise ship while on his honeymoon is missing.  Mr. Scott married Angelijica Scott last Saturday before boarding the Carnival Liberty in Port Canaveral.  According to Carnival’s spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz, Mr. Scott “was observed jumping from a cabin balcony about at around 4:53 a.m. on Friday.   The ship was approximately 10 miles northwest of the Berry Islands in the Bahamas at the time of the incident.  The cruise ship was turned around and crew members launched a search of the boat.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District, a Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawck helicopter crew deployed to Great Iguana, Bahamas.  The Coast Guard Cutter Charles David Jr., Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry airplane crews, the Carnival Liberty cruise ship and the Norwegian Jade cruise ship assisted with the search which lasted 29 hours and covered 1,064 miles.  The Coast Guard suspended its search on Saturday at about 6:00 p.m. extending its thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Mr. Scott.

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A 26-foot boat sank with six men on board during a night fishing trip two miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale Wednesday night.   A man on a charter fishing boat spotted something in the water and heard a man call out for help.  The man called the U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Lauderdale via an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast.  The U.S. Coast Guard arrived on the scene with Broward County Sheriff’s Office at approximately 10:00 p.m.  By the time rescuers arrived four men had already been pulled from the water.

With the help of the BSO’s helicopter, the U.S. Coast Guard was able to rescue the other two men in the water.  One of the men was found unresponsive when he was pulled out of the water and CPR efforts were started immediately.  Unfortunately, the man was later pronounced dead at Broward Health Medical Center upon arrival.  The other five men who were rescued were also taken to Broward Health and are expected to make a full recovery.

It is unknown what caused the boat to sink but according to news sources the vessel vanished quickly beneath the waves, leaving the men adrift and treading water for about half an hour in waters approximately 70 feet deep.

Search-For-Missing-Man-Overboard-Carnival-Victory-Continues-300x200The U.S. Coast Guard and Cuban search and rescue authorities are searching for a missing 23-year-old man who went overboard the Carnival Victory cruise ship 33 miles northwest of Pinar Del Rio, Cuba.  Brandon Paul is the Floral City, Florida resident who is reported to have gone overboard the cruise ship from the eighth deck yesterday at approximately 3 a.m.  The ship was sailing from Key West, Florida to Cozumel, Mexico on a four-day cruise.

Carnival is reported to have launched a search boat and contacted the Seventh Coast Guard District Command Center, which directed a search plan and cutter to the area.  As of six in the evening the search continued without success.

The Carnival Victory is a thirteen-deck cruise ship and the eighth deck, from which Mr. Paul fell contains passenger cabins, most of which have balconies.

Bodies-of-Men-Missing-Found-in-Florida-waters-300x169Jie Luo, a 21-year-old Colorado State student went missing March 14 after he and four others decided to go swimming jumping off a chartered yacht.  Luo and the four other swimmers were part of a group of 16 college students sailing on a charter boat in the Pass-A-Grille channel near the Gulf of Mexico while on spring break.  Due to a strong current and strong winds, Luo could not get back on the boat and the boat’s first mate, Andrew Dillman, 27-years-old, jumped in the water attempting to rescue Luo while the charter captain assisted the four other swimmers.

Unfortunately, both men were swept away by the current and went missing.  Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office searched for the missing men for days until calling off the search on March 19.  Shortly after, boaters found the men’s bodies south of where they originally went missing. Dillman’s body was found March 20 and Luo’s March 22.  We extend our sincere condolences to their families and loved ones.