Families of Four Victims Killed in Conception Boat Fire File Wrongful Death Claims

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Attorney Robert Glassman of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP (PSB) and Robert Mongeluzzi and Jeffrey Goodman of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, P.C., (SMBB) held a joint press conference in Los Angeles to announce the filing of wrongful death and survival action claims on behalf of three passengers and one crew member killed in the Labor Day 2019 MV Conception commercial dive-boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. Filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of the families of Dr. Sanjeeri Deopujari, Kaustbh Nirmal, Yulia Krashennaya, and Alexandra “Allie” Kurtz, the filings are the most comprehensive to date and assert that the massive inferno — likely caused by an unsafe lithium-ion-battery charging station — was foreseeable and preventable in part due to the failing to have a mandatory overnight safety watch.

The filing provided an Answer to the Complaint filed by Conception’s owners, Truth Aquatics, Inc., Glen Richard Fritzler and Dana Jeanne Fritzler, individually and as trustees of the Fritzler Family Trust, as well as a counter-claim by the victims. The claimants were among the 34 individuals asleep below deck, directly beneath the heavily-used battery charging station in the galley. Due to the vessel’s inadequate life-safety system design, including woeful means of ingress and egress, the victims were trapped and unable to escape when the fire erupted about 3:15 a.m. on September 2, 2019. Less than three full days after the fire, lawyers for the vessel’s owner filed for protection under the 1851 Limitation of Liability Act designed to protect the shipping industry. Their filing occurred before the last bodies were recovered by divers.

“The defendants killed these victims by breaking the law and failing to have a roving night watch whose job was to prevent the very catastrophe that occurred. Rather than mourn those whose lives they took with their failure to obey the law, they lawyered up and mercilessly filed an action to limit their liability before many of the bodies of these victims were even recovered. We will demolish their frivolous limitation of liability claim and hold them accountable for the outrageous harm they have caused,” said Mr. Mongeluzzi of SMBB.

Mr. Goodman, partner at SMBB, said, “lithium-ion batteries pose an extreme fire risk. Vessel owners and operators need to take safety precautions to ensure that a fire doesn’t start, spread, and kill. Given the lax safety policies and safety enforcement at Truth Aquatics, it was only a matter of time before tragedy struck. We fully expect this litigation will put Truth Aquatics out of business and send a message to the maritime industry that safety must always come before profits.”

“Make no mistake, the owners of the Conception were responsible for providing a safe, seaworthy vessel and failed to do so. In the aftermath of this tragedy, all deserve to know what went fatally wrong and that our justice system works in holding accountable those responsible for the wrongful deaths of 34 people,” said Mr. Glassman. “Through discovery, we intend to determine, for instance, why the Conception had non-compliant escape hatches in the event of an emergency, among what appears to be a litany of safety lapses. The family members, who are still grieving and in shock, want to express their deepest gratitude to all of the first responders for their efforts, to the people in and around Santa Barbara, and to the well-wishers from around the world whose support is a source of strength. Above all, the families of the victims, and those that represent them, want to make sure that what happened to their loved ones on the Conception can never happen again.”

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