On January 14, 2018 Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz, LLC sent out their shuttle boat, the Island Lady, to head toward its gambling ship offshore. On that shuttle vessel were 53 passengers. Along the way an engine over-heated and caused a fire to break out on the vessel which eventually engulfed the entire vessel and burned it down to the waterline. All passengers were forced to jump overboard—despite that many of them were senior citizens. Many sustained injuries.
At our firm, www.888BoatLaw, we were the first law firm to file suit against the owners and operators of the vessel. Tuesday, December 11, 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing and released their initial findings—which confirmed our original beliefs that the owners of the vessel were negligent and responsible for the fire. (See full report of NTSB attached, and watch the video of the boat fire at WFLA.)
The NTSB found that Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz, LLC., owners of the Island Lady, failed to properly maintain the 72-foot wooden-hulled vessel, failed to install fire detection equipment where the blaze originated and failed to properly train the crew in how to deal with the high engine temperatures that caused the fire or how to handle the emergency once the fire started. This case is especially egregious, the NTSB stated in their hearing, because the owners/operators of the vessel had a similar fire incident on one of their vessels in 2004, and did not correct deficiencies noted then.
THE OWNERS TRIED TO LIMIT THEIR LIABILITY AGAINST ALL CLAIMANTS
The present state of injury claims is that the owners/operators of the vessel filed suit in federal court seeking to exonerate themselves or to limit their liability only to the worth of the burned-out hull. Stated another way, the owners/operators sought to limit all claimants and potential injured parties to the worth of the hull. Initially, there were 24 claimants who filed claims in the federal court. Under federal rules, the owners/operators contended in court papers that all claimants should at most split approximately $27,000 between them.
WHAT THE NTSB RULING MEANS
What the NTSB ruling means is that it will be very difficult for the owners and operators of the burned out casino shuttle boat to contend that they had no negligence in the events leading up to the fire on their vessel. This means that the owners/operators’ federal court “limitation action” is in jeopardy of being dismissed. What does that further mean? It means that if the federal case is dismissed then each claimant—including our client—is free to pursue the owners and operators in either federal court or state court. Again, we filed suit in state court immediately after the casualty for our client and our suit is waiting for the federal “limitation action” to be dismissed—which now looks more and more likely.
We continue to fight this case for our client who was on the vessel that day.