George Pino Files For Limitation Of Liability In September 4, 2022 Boat Crash Case
Boat Crash Case
Defense attorneys for vessel operator and owner George Pino filed a Limitation of Liability case in federal court in the September 4, 2022 boat crash case which killed 17-year-old Luciana Fernandez and severely injured passenger Katerina Puig. The crash occurred when Pino struck a channel marker in Cutter Bank in the ICW just west of Broad Creek near Monroe County. On the vessel were twelve girls, the driver and his wife when the vessel struck the channel marker around 6:30 p.m. and ejected all occupants of the boat.
As we predicted upon hearing of the crash back in September, the insurer for Pino has now filed a Limitation of Liability lawsuit in federal court which seeks to limit the recovery of all victims of the crash to the worth of the damaged vessel—reported to be only $5600 according the federal court filing. This law, originally passed by the U.S. Congress in 1851, allows a vessel owner to seek to limit the owner’s exposure to the worth of the vessel involved in a casualty where the owner was not negligent, and not in “privity” with any person who was negligent.
At the time in 1851 the purpose of the law was to provide the U.S. merchant shipping companies limited liability to compete with ocean-going companies from other countries who had similar laws favoring those foreign merchant mariners. Over the last 170 years the law has been applied repeatedly to recreational vessels and has been used by insurers of recreational vessels to try to limit the recovery of accident victims–even where the amount of available insurance far exceeds the worth of the vessel.
A Limitation of Liability suit is brought by the owner of the vessel in federal court and essentially sues the injured passengers, forcing the injured passengers to litigate the case in federal court where a federal judge, not a jury, decides issues of: why a casualty occurred, who is at fault, and whether the owner is entitled to limitation of liability financially. The Limitation action also brings in all claimants under one lawsuit in federal court and the federal judge restricts (i.e., “stays”) any pending lawsuits relating to the casualty and prevents any lawsuits relating the casualty from being filed elsewhere until the issues of the Limitation action in federal court are decided.
This week 888BOATLAW’s founding attorney, Frank D. Butler, was quoted in the Miami Herald March 20, 2023 article written by Herald reporter, David Goodhue, about the filing of the Limitation action. “I spoke with David earlier in the week when he called to discuss our conversation we had shortly after the incident occurred and my prediction then that the insurer would most assuredly file a Limitation action”, attorney Butler said. “In our conversation this week I reaffirmed the fact that the insurer of this vessel was attempting to limit the recovery of every claimant from that crash to just the $5600 the lawsuit claimed the vessel was worth—after the crash”.
The link to the full Miami Herald article of March 21, 2023 is here:
888BOATLAW Attorney Frank Butler goes on to state that, “Limitation actions have to be taken seriously because of the harsh consequences of having all claimants potentially being resigned to a very limited amount from which to recover even though the casualty in this case produced severe injuries and a death”. “The filings of these Limitation of Liability cases come as a surprise many times to attorneys representing families of such boating crashes, which attorneys are familiar with handing automobile accidents but not cases like these involving maritime law–and in federal court.”
“These cases are governed by strict time lines in federal court and are decided by federal judges, not juries; it is therefore extremely important that they are handled carefully or a family could be restricted to only a very small recovery.” Attorney, Frank Butler noted, “We have handled many of these Limitation actions and it is important that the attorney handling such a case for a claimant or their family must be very familiar with the facts of the case but most importantly that the attorney know the procedures of the federal process in these unique cases governed by maritime law.