Boat owner in fatal accident seeks limit on liability

After the Kandi Won was raised from the

After the Kandi Won was raised from the bottom of Oyster Bay, authorities pumped out water that was in the cabin cruiser. (July 11, 2012) Photo Credit: Chris Ware

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A lawyer has kicked off the anticipated legal battle over the July Fourth 2012 Oyster Bay boat accident by trying to limit liability against the owner of the vessel in which three children drowned.

Even though no lawsuits against his client have been filed, James E. Mercante, the New York maritime attorney for Kandi Won owner Kevin Treanor of Dix Hills, submitted papers last Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn as a pre-emptive move. He seeks a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York that any claims against Treanor be heard in that court under admiralty law.

"This is clearly an admiralty case," Mercante said in an interview, and attorneys cannot legally challenge the jurisdiction of that court if a judge approves his motion. Under admiralty law, attorneys can only contest the claim for limited liability or the value of the vessel after the accident or try to prove negligence on the part of the owner, Mercante and other maritime attorneys said.

If the liability limit is not successfully challenged by attorneys for anyone suing Treanor, his monetary liability would be limited to the cash value of the 34-foot Silverton cabin cruiser after it sank. Mercante included an appraisal from a marine surveyor stating the recovered hull is now worth only $1,500.

The liability limit can be exceeded if it is shown in court that the owner was aware of a problem with the boat or was otherwise negligent, maritime attorneys said. If families of those who died want to sue other parties they could still do that, they added.

Attorney Michael Della, who represents Paul and Lisa Gaines, whose daughter Victoria died in the accident, said he had no comment.

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Admiralty law and the limit-of-liability language dates to 1851 and has been used in many celebrated nautical disasters, including the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, in which liability was limited to the value of its lifeboats.

Often in these cases, the owner was not on the vessel at the time, which makes it more likely the limit of liability will be imposed, maritime experts said. In the Kandi Won case, Treanor was on board, although he was not steering the boat.

The Nassau County district attorney's office issued a report in July stating that overloading with 27 people aboard was the primary cause of the accident.

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