Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

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Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death
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Memorial at the Santa Barbara Harbor for the 34 victims of the Conception boat fire (Photo: Robert Bernstein)

By edhat staff

The owners of the Conception dive boat are being sued by the widow of a passenger who was one of the 34 people killed when the boat caught fire off the Santa Barbara coast in September.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday by Christine Dignam which claimed the boat was unsafe when her husband Justin Dignam died on September 2, reports the Associated Press.

The lawsuit claims the boat did not have enough emergency exits, adequate smoke detectors or firefighting equipment, and a roving night watch was not on duty when the flames sparked in the early morning hours.

Justin Dingham (Photo: Big Fish Employer Services)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and U.S. Coast Guard are continuing its investigation into what caused the Labor Day fire. The preliminary NTSB report did not point to a cause but stated all five surviving crew members were asleep at the time of the fire and the Conception did not have a roving night watchman as required by the Coast Guard. Records show the boat passed its two most recent safety inspections without violations.

The 33 passengers and 1 crew member were sleeping below deck and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Coroner states their injuries are consistent with smoke inhalation. The NTSB stated a full report detailing the cause of the fire will not be available for another 12 to 18 months.

This is the first lawsuit against Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics Inc., the company that owned the Conception boat, from a relative of the victims who died. Crew member Ryan Sims who was injured escaping the flames filed a lawsuit of September 12 alleging the Conception's owners were negligent in their failure to properly train crew members, give adequate safety and medical equipment and provide safety rules, among other claims

Truth Aquatics officially suspended all operations on October 1. Several days after the fire, owners Glen and Dana Fritzler filed a court action claiming their company was not liable for any damages from the victims' families because the vessel was seaworthy when it caught fire. The Limitation of Liability Act was instituted in 1851 has been used in previous maritime tragedies such as the sinking of the Titanic and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Legal experts previously stated cases always follow accidents at sea and look bad, but they are usually initiated by insurance companies to limit losses.

Dignam's case is a counterclaim to this lawsuit which hints at messy electrical and cable wires where passengers charged their phones, video cameras, lights, and other battery-powered equipment.

The U.S. Coast Guard released safety reminders a week following the deadly fire that included, "Reduce potential fire hazards and consider limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and extensive use of power strips and extension cords."

Justin Dignam, 58 of Anaheim Hills, was an avid scuba diver and water polo player, and was the founder and CEO of Big Fish Employer Services, a payroll management company.

"With a broken heart, I will lead us vigilantly as we await confirmation from the authorities," wrote Big Fish Employer Services president Jeff Hill. "We are honoring Justin with our actions by continuing to run the business that he built with honor and commitment."

USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey released a statement saying Justin was a passionate longtime member of the water polo community since playing in college and they're heartbroken to hear of his passing.

Justin is survived by his wife Christine and two teenage children, Taylor and Chandler.

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PitMix Nov 12, 2019 01:54 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Long article in LA Times today about how the NTSB over the years has made many recommendations to make overnight boats safer based on past accidents and tragedies, and the Coast Guard who makes the rules has rejected most of them. Too bad the Coast Guard can't be sued for negligence.

420722 Nov 12, 2019 03:05 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

She won’t be the first or the last to sue Truth Aquatics owners. I hope they can get their business going again. This was an accident and it shouldn’t ever happen again.

CaptainObvious Nov 12, 2019 07:09 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Ahoy Matey, Welcome Aboard "Facetious Aquatics", where we promise ye wont be burned to death in your sleeping bag. Really. We promise next time we wont let our greed and negligence kill 34 people, nor will we ever again make families spend painful years suing us for our loot and doubloons.

a-1573770328 Nov 14, 2019 02:25 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

One way to ensure it never happens again, at least partly so, is to deep six Truth Aquatics. Not having a lookout posted was shamefully unprofessional and unacceptable.

Factotum Nov 12, 2019 03:34 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Can't squeeze blood from a turnip. There are only finite assets and insurance limits on the table. Won't matter how many eventually sue. Nor do we yet understand if contributory negligence was a factor as well.

Red Creek Nov 12, 2019 04:12 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Good article today on this disaster, it's causes, what is being done to protect other small boat passengers and crew in light of what happened on the Conception: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-11-12/conception-boat-fire-coast-guard-ntsb-recommendations

Flicka Nov 12, 2019 04:31 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Sounds like if a crew member had been (awake) on watch this accident could have been discovered much, much sooner, when the fire was starting. Sure engulfed the whole boat in a great big hurry.

Channelfog Nov 13, 2019 08:36 AM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Yes Flicka, with one or a few people on board waking to check things, anchor, every couple hours works. With 30+ passengers a continuous roving night watch is required and may likely have averted this tragedy. When there are plenty of crew onboard this is just good seamanship aside from law.

CaptainObvious Nov 12, 2019 07:02 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Yaaargh,.. Be Dive Boat Company with brand new boats.. Blast "Rock Lobster" for forty years.. Grow lazy, complacent, rich and hubristic.. Ignore instinct, conscience and any other inner voice warning you of impending doom.. Be uninterested in costly, forward thinking upgrades.. Maintain pristine cosmetic appeal instead.. Have major catastrophe. Blame everyone else and litigate to keep your wealth from the families of the deceased.. Become "the Example and the Reason" to change Federal Laws....
Get sued by lawyers with great yelp reviews....

CaptainObvious Nov 12, 2019 07:05 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Aye Aye, Produce "Sea Captains" by the litter.. Hire young, low skilled employees .. Pay them badly, promise them "Sea Time for their "Captain's License".. Get years of loyal service from underpaid, uninsured, independently contracted, indentured servants .. Teach them that safety is relative to Facebook likes and yelp reviews.. Incorporate them into illegal and nefarious collusion to really get them hooked into "accompliceship".. Get USCG to approve "Sea Time" for replicating the same four voyages, in and around the same local harbor and vicinity.. USCG Issues Same exact "Captain License" as military trained captains with thousands of miles and years of global experience.. Sue crew member you trained.. Claim incompetence.. Get great yelp reviews.

PitMix Nov 13, 2019 08:15 AM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Very creative writing, mostly a fictionalized account of the tragedy and the motivations of the participants. Too bad Edhat isn't handing out awards for anonymous internet comments.

CaptainObvious Nov 13, 2019 08:44 AM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Thanks Matey, I hope these USCG Inspectors show no quarter to these scoundrels of the sea and send them to Davey Jones Locker after o good solid Keelhaulin. Once the USCG looks into ALL the deaths that have happened in the past twenty years, I'll bet my last shark tooth that these scallywags have been killing people with negligence and greed for years. Silent settlements after long drawn out court battles keep tourist dollars a flowin.

CoastWatch Nov 12, 2019 07:36 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

This was a tragic "accident". These vessels gave countless divers enjoyment over the years, yes even before GoPro Cameras, Cell Phones and lithium powered underwater lights and cameras. It's ashame these devices have become fixtures that it seems we can no longer live without... There is something to be said about being "unplugged" when going to the Islands and exploring the beauty underwater...

CaptainObvious Nov 13, 2019 08:30 AM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Shiver me Timbers Swab!!.. An Accident? Spilled milk is an 'accident'. This is a human catastrophe, 34 people burned alive, screaming their last breath!. It's not the fault of the vessel, or of the devices that people cannot live without. It is the fault of every single person who looked at that charging situation and didn't say a word about it. Chances are very, very, very, very, very, very, very, high that the USCG Inspectors never saw that disgraceful mess during ANY inspections. Worse!, chances are even higher, that the owners made 'Extra Efforts' to repeatedly deceive the USCG as to the existence of such a death trap.

CaptainObvious Nov 13, 2019 03:51 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Ahoy! "USS Ad Hominem", Ye whom questions the flag I fly on my yardarm, as if it were the flag of another land. I assure you there is no pseudonym here, nor any attempt to be "cute". Any "Pathetic" you may see, is your inherent disdain for the truth (not the boat) and your uncontrollable urge to attack any source of it. Fair winds.

CaptainObvious Nov 13, 2019 04:42 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Yeaargh! Batten down the hatches, ya landlubbers! and keep em' locked Mateys! Cause, thars an open berth in "Infamy's Harbor", right between the "HMS Pandora" and the "Costa Concordia" and here's the link...( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_disasters_by_death_toll#Maritime ). Right next to the "Pandora". Imagine that. Aye.

Crystalandmaui Nov 14, 2019 08:51 AM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

This was a horrific tragedy, and of course some kind of responsibility must be accepted. No money will be acceptable for the loss of their loved one.
Wasn’t there a seller at the harbor on the seafood food festival day, selling tickets for fishing trips on those boats? Are all 3 of boats owned by the same identity?
Responsibility is of the boat owners. And the crew.

a-1573774246 Nov 14, 2019 03:30 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Crystalandmaui - you obviously aren't familiar with the boats and/or where and under whom they operate, so I'm doubtful you know for fact where the responsibility lies.

a-1573770705 Nov 14, 2019 02:31 PM
Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death

Hey. If Stihl Incorporated can be sued and judged guilty for their failure to adequately warn users about possible incendiary risks of use of Stihl equipment (Jesusita Fire), then why not a lawsuit against manufacturers of possibly incendiary electronic devices? What a world we live in now.

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