A judge has ruled that any lawsuits against the owner of the boat involved in the July Fourth 2012 Oyster Bay accident in which three children drowned must be heard in federal court under admiralty law.
The ruling signed Oct. 10 by Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein and released Wednesday means that a lawsuit brought against the owner and nine other parties last week in State Supreme Court will not proceed until questions of negligence and liability are resolved in federal court.
James E. Mercante, maritime attorney for Kandi Won owner Kevin Treanor of Dix Hills, sought the ruling from U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in an effort to limit Treanor's liability. Under admiralty law, other attorneys cannot contest the jurisdiction; they can only contest the owner's attempt to limit liability to the value of the vessel after an accident by proving negligence by the owner or the actual value of the vessel, several 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's motion included an appraisal from a marine surveyor stating the recovered hull is 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 the owner is onboard, it's a tough sell" to limit the liability, said Howard M. McCormack of Garden City, a maritime attorney and former president of the Maritime Law Association of the United States. "The courts tend to take the view that if he's onboard and it's not a big boat, he's likely to have some knowledge of what's going on." But he added that "there are cases going both ways."
When the Kandi Won capsized, Treanor was onboard but was not steering.
Attorney Michael Della, who represents Paul Gaines, whose daughter Victoria, 7, died in the accident, filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court in Riverhead last week. Also killed were cousins, David Aureliano, 12, of Kings Park, and Harley Treanor, 11, of Huntington Station.
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.