The legal consequences of a tragic boat accident that occurred two years ago in Philadelphia are finally coming to the surface. In 2010, two Hungarian teenagers were tragically killed while riding one of the popular Duck Boat tour boats. While on the river, the boat’s engine malfunctioned, leaving the boat and its passengers vulnerable to oncoming traffic. A large barge that was being towed struck the Duck Boat and killed the two teens. The victims’ families are suing both the Duck Boat and the barge company. This is the type of water accident lawsuit that attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are well-equipped to handle.
The first pertinent legal issue to be determined is whether the court should place a cap on the defendants’ financial liability because of an antiquated maritime law enacted in 1851. According to the defendants’ interpretation of the law, liability should be capped at the value of boats involved in the accident. If correct, the maximum potential liability would be only $1.8 million per victim.
The victims’ families are irate over the possibility of enforcing such a law for several reasons. First, it appears that enforcement of this law would result in an unfairly low damage award, especially because of the victims’ young age. The median damage award for a wrongful death case involving a victim in this age group is $2.99 million, an amount far more than the possible maximum award of $1.8 million. Secondly, this approach does not properly address the challenging and sensitive concept of life valuation. Predetermined liability that does not account for personal factors is too rigid a standard for a wrongful death award.
An integral component to awarding damages in wrongful death cases is the level of the defendant’s negligence. Plaintiffs’ allege that the Duck Boat operator was aware of the broken radiator cap that caused the malfunction, because it was discovered during an inspection the night before the accident.
Instead of accepting liability for their contribution to the deaths, Duck
Boat has focused its defense solely on the potential liability of the
barge company that collided with. According to news reports, video footage
evidences that the Duck Boat was stranded in the water for at least two
minutes before the barge collided with it, allowing sufficient time for
the barge to avoid the collision.
Duck Boat’s assertion is bolstered by the fact that the barge operator pled guilty to the maritime equivalent of involuntary manslaughter, as he was on his phone at the time of the collision. While this will likely lessen Duck Boat’s percentage of liability, it does not negate their negligence that caused the boat to malfunction in a dangerous location. Concurrent negligence does not usually obviate one party from liability, unless the accident wouldn’t have occurred in the absence of the other defendant’s negligence.
Due to the extremely sympathetic nature of the deaths of these victims, it is likely that the defendants will attempt to settle with the plaintiffs and resolve the matter in a less public fashion. However, this case raises important legal issues and it has already generated a significant amount of attention among the general public and within the legal community. The attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are highly skilled in the practice areas of wrongful death and negligence, and we strongly advocate on behalf of all of our personal injury clients.