Widow Sues Conception Boat Owners for Wrongful Death
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.
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.