Criminal prosecutors say the captain of a boat that crashed into a Hudson River construction barge last summer, killing two of the driver’s close friends, reportedly admitted to emergency crews that he had been drinking heavily throughout the day.
However, the family of one of those victims – a woman engaged to be married the following month to one of the crash survivors – has filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages not only against the intoxicated driver, but also the owners of the barge and the construction company that designed and was building the $4 million bridge.
In Stewart-Kosik v. Tappan Zee Constructors LLC et al, the 30-year-old bride-to-be’s mother alleges the tragedy could have been prevented altogether had the owners of the construction barge heeded warnings. Additionally, the claim contends the lighting in the area was either not working or insufficient for boaters to safely operate their vessels in the Hudson, south of the Tappan Zee Bridge.
What further compounded the problem, particularly at night, was that the barges were black in color and low to the water, thus making visibility even more difficult for boaters.
The fact that the pilot of the 19-foot speed boat had been drinking (investigators say his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit and there were traces of cocaine in his bloodstream), doesn’t change the issue of visibility.
The plaintiff alleges that no one aboard the vessel that evening saw the barge prior to the collision. This is especially relevant when one considers that the construction firm had received notice from numerous boaters that the lighting was inadequate for the type of boats that typically frequented those waters.Whatever light was there was reportedly blocked by construction equipment.
“In effect,” said the attorney representing the family, “This was an accident waiting to happen.”
The construction firm and barge owner have maintained the lighting was sufficient. However, since the crash, the firms have added additional lighting to the area where the crash occurred.
The negligence lawsuit was filed in late November, the same week the driver of the boat pleaded not guilty to 18 criminal charges, including first-and second-degree felony vehicular manslaughter, negligent homicide and operating a vessel under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Even the judge in the criminal case noted that the driver’s blood-alcohol level alone doesn’t prove the defendant caused the crash. In other words, there could be other factors (i.e., negligence by dim lighting) that may have played a larger role in the outcome.
That’s exactly the stance taken by the driver’s criminal defense lawyers. The victims’ families say the driver needs to take responsibility, but that doesn’t mean they will allow the construction company and barge operator off the hook.
The case has been brought under both New York and General Maritime Law.
A plaintiff can successfully prove a New York premises liability claim by showing that he or she was lawfully on the property in question, that the owner of that property was negligent in handling an unsafe situation and that plaintiff (or loved one) suffered injury as a result.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Prosecutor: Hudson boat driver admitted to drinking, Nov. 20, 2013, By Steve Lieberman, USA Today
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NYC Ferry Crash Injures at Least 57, Jan. 9, 2013, New York City Personal Injury Lawyer Blog