Conception disaster widow sues Truth Aquatics

Isaac Sieblink, Staff Writer

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This past week, a family member of one of the victims of the Conception fire sued the late boat’s owners for the disaster. Christine Dignam (wife of Justin Dignam, one of the 33 passengers and one crew member killed in the disaster) brought the case forward last Monday against Truth Aquatics Inc., claiming the boat was unsafe. This lawsuit was in response to a claim filed by the boat’s owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler, to mitigate liability, the first lawsuit to be filed by one of the victim’s family.

The boats owners in question claim that they “used reasonable care to make the Conception seaworthy, and she was, at all relevant times, tight, staunch, and strong, fully and properly manned, equipped and supplied and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the service in which she was engaged.” Based on this report, by a U.S. maritime law dating back to mid-19th century, the liability of the owners for the disaster could be effectively nothing if the boat was in seaworthy condition at the time of the disaster. However, there is a six-month period of time from the claim’s filing that allows for counterclaims to arise — proof that the boat was not in fact properly maintained.

Though the Limitation of Liability Act has been brought into effect in previous maritime disasters, including the Titanic, the swiftness of Truth Aquatics’ claim (a mere three days following the disaster) has been found as rather surprising. Any and all claims against Truth Aquatics would have to be brought forward within six months — scarcely enough time for the families of victims to mourn. “This is shocking,” remarked Charles Naylor, a maritime attorney. “They’re forcing these people to bring their claims and bring them now … They could let these people bury their kids.”

Dignam’s lawsuit of wrongful-death cites a number of reasons as to the liability of Truth Aquatics for the disaster, among them: lack of adequate smoke detectors, firefighting equipment, and emergency exits, failure of the crew to keep a mandatory “roving” night watch as required by the Coast Guard. The lawsuit also hints towards haphazard electrical equipment, the equipment being related to the wires and cables used by passengers to charge their battery-powered devices; the lawsuit claims the onboard electrical system was unsafe.

This is the first lawsuit brought against Truth Aquatics’ claim from a family member of one of the victims (an injured crewmember previously sued). Dignam’s suit may change the outcome of Truth Aquatics’ trial if it can prove that the company was at fault, or else claimants would only be entitled to the value of the remains of the ship — which, as a total loss, has a value of zero. However, if Truth Aquatics loses their case, the liability costs of 34 dead would be massive.  

Investigations as to the cause of the fire are still underway, the ship itself still lying upside down near the Channel Islands.