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Boat-owning lawyer tries to bar lawsuits over arm-slicing incident in Boston Harbor

Naut Guilty

The Naut Guilty in boat jail in Charlestown. Photo by Melissa K. Palardy.

Benjamin Urbelis isn't waiting for the state court system to decide whether he's criminally liable for a passenger on his boat having her arm sliced off: He's filed a request in federal court that seeks to have a judge limit his civil liabilities should he get sued.

In a request filed in US District Court in Boston, Urbelis takes advantage of the fact that federal admiralty law, which can limit a ship owner's civil liabilities, covers craft in navigable waters, such as Boston Harbor. In his request , he asserts he's not to blame for the arm loss and injuries other passengers on his Naut Guilty "may have sustained" and so a judge should rule he either has no civil liability or, if he does, that liability is limited to the worth of the boat.

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Comments

Only in America.

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let's slice off the arms of all the lawyers."

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I kind of like living under the rule of law.

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The said M/V Naut Guilty at the commencement of her voyage was tight, strong, fully manned, equipped and supplied and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the service in which she was engaged

This piece of shit is trying to make himself look like Melville when his dumb ass was trolling for underage drinkers. I hope the Judge throws this out the window along with this scumbag's career.

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The Bar Association is said to have fairly strict rules regarding professional comportment. The maritime law dodge looks interesting. His Quincy attorney is at least imaginative.

But it also suggests that the former judge and Suffolk Law grad isn't too sanguine about Benny's chances in Commonwealth courts. It's like a legal Hail Mary pass.

At best he'll end up being a disgraced former attorney.

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Disgraced, and having to close shop in Boston and move down to Quincy!

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First, in Massachusetts, it's called the Board of Bar Overseers, because, well, we're fancy like that. The Massachusetts Bar Association is an industry trade type of group for lawyers. Second, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a lawyer who's got a DUI or something else on his CORI. The BBO doesn't disbar lawyers for drunken driving or drunken boating; there are lawyers out there who have been suspended and then reinstated after criminal convictions -- I know of one woman who's got two or three and lied to the BBO about it, and is back practicing, and another one who pulled a gun on a fellow shopper at a mall and just got a suspension. Welcome to Massachusetts!

Now if Urbellis had stolen client funds or got caught forging another lawyer's signature, that's a different story; he'd be out on his keister. But moral turpitude? Practically a job requirement.

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He should disbarred for this unethical behavior.

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Maybe at the "commencement of her voyage" the Naut Guilty was indeed fully manned; but based on the anecdotal evidence reported in the news media, at the time of the incident in question, the vessel was entirely crewless, the crew having gotten completely soused and then having abandoned ship (abandoned boat?) to go for a dip in the ocean.

And I'm not sure that providing alcohol to teenagers would qualify as "the service in which she was engaged." If a boat is used for an illegal purpose with the consent of her owner, do the protections of admiralty law still apply?

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Is it necessary to do this so soon, or could he have waited with no loss of position in his case?

Is this only about his case, or is he thinking about his image as a defense attorney, and wants to make a show of being aggressive?

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"the Skipper brave and sure"

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If someone is in the water near your boat you should have the motor in neutral.
He obviously lacks experience and made a big mistake.

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Allegedly, he was in the water at the time as well. He wasn't the one operating the boat.

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of his boat, he should assume personal responsibility for the same. I.E. Do not leave your boat to go with an alleged swim while your boat is manned by drunk and/or under-aged drunk boat guests.

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As I said in an earlier comment (probably still pending approval), my limited understanding of admiralty law application to recreational boats is that the person at the wheel is considered the master for most purposes. This is different from inspected vessels with a licensed captain, where the captain is the master (and thus held responsible) almost always, even if he's not on watch.

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Was he the captain though? He may not have been operating the boat at all that day. It is plausible that an owner of a boat can be a passenger, while another person is captain.

So people can't go for a swim now? I would not have jumped in, just because the water is very cold in May. People anchor and swim all of the time, the boat owner does not have to stay on the boat. If the owner did have someone else operating the boat, he clearly was not wise with his choice of captain. Who knows, while the others were swimming, one of the passengers, could have turned on the boat and put it in gear without permission, or didn't what they were doing.
Boats are too dangerous to be screwing around like that.
From what I read, the boat was anchored. I did not see anywhere that explains why someone turned the boat on/put it in gear, or the name of the individual operating the boat. If they were trying to retrieve a float, someone should have swam to get it. They probably would have driven over the anchor line anyways.
Mr. Urbelis should not have had 13 people on a vessel that size, it's just unsafe. The underage thing is crazy, guys in their 30's hanging out with 19 year olds and letting them get boozed up on your boat, not too bright (and weird).
I do not think Mr. Urbelis is right nor am I defending him, but under admiralty law, this defense may work.

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My family would always cut the engine if anyone was even near the transom. Overkill? Maybe. But we never had any accidents.

Training and experience on the water should be a must. It's criminal in this state that any jabroni with enough cash can buy and operate a boat with zero credentials.

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entitlement's disease.

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This is called the Limitation of Liability Act and is fairly standard in admiralty law, which is a specialized legal field. The statute dates back to the 1850s. It was even the subject of litigation after the Titantic sunk. Its main design is to protect ship owners from liability for the negligent actions of a third party using the boat where the owner had no real involvement in said actions. Here, Ureblis is claiming he's not liable as the boat owner for what happened to this young woman. But, generally speaking, he will still be at fault if he had personal participation in the events leading to the injury and/or knowledge of the conditions or negligence that led to the injury. So, this is still going to come down to what he did or did not do basically since we know he was on the boat for this trip, as opposed to having let a friend borrow his boat while Ureblis sat at home watching tv. Under admiralty law, he had six months to file this from the date of the incident so no surprise he did so. It's a complicated field but that's the issue in a nutshell.

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... which would mean that since he was the host of the party on board the boat he owned, he's effing responsible. D'oh!

This is one he's gonna lose.

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deleted

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He was reportedly drunk, and there was reportedly underage drinking on his boat. Does that count as "personal participation"?

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+1 informative

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He might want to look up the Pennsylvania Rule. The Pennsylvania, 86 U.S. 125 (1873) ( if a ship is in some violation of a navigation statute at the time of a collision, she is presumed to be at fault.) In this case it seems he was drunk.

Also he can't limit liability when the violation when he was in "privity and knowledge" of the negligence : A vessel owner, pursuant to the Limitation Act, is entitled to limit its liability after a maritime incident or casualty to the post casualty value of the vessel and the pending freight, except when the loss occurred due to its "privity or knowledge." 46 U.S.C. App. §183(a). In other words, privity or knowledge will be found to exist where the acts of negligence or unseaworthiness that caused the casualty were known or should have been know by the vessel owner. Farrell Lines, Inc. v. Jones, 530 F.2d 7 (5th Cir. 1976), rehearing denied 532 F.2d 1375 (5th Cir. 1976).

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He's single.

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.

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If a boat is in the water and floating, doesn't that by definition make it a navigable waterway? I thought anything you could float a kayak in was considered navigable. When would a boat ever be in "unnavigable waters", when it's stranded on a sandbar?

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To qualify as “navigable waters,” bodies of water must “form in their ordinary condition by themselves, or by uniting with other waters, a continued highway over which commerce is or may be carried on with other States or foreign countries in the customary modes in which such commerce is conducted by water.” The Daniel Ball, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 557, 563 (1870). A body of water that is completely land-locked within a single state is not navigable for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction. LeBlanc v. Cleveland, 198 F.3d 353 (2d Cir. 1999)

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Why are boat operators in MA even allowed to have open containers of alcohol in their vehicles when it is illegal, as it should be, to do so on in a car/truck? The rules seem to allow/encourage boating while drinking, and since there is rarely much of a penalty for doing so when in a vehicle, the more lax attitude towards drinking and boating in MA means this guy at worst will get a ticket.

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Why aren't open containers allowed in cars? These laws do little or nothing to affect drunk driving, they just provide one more charge for a police officer to throw at you and inconvenience passengers. Many places in Europe allow open containers in cars and public and they're fine. Even some places in the US allow open containers while driving (or at least they did until recently; I remember reading an article a few years back about TN closing their last drive-through margarita place). The problem is irresponsible people; no amount of laws will ever legislate that away.

Also, think of this: unlike cars, boats typically have kitchens, refrigerators, bathrooms, bedrooms... it's more like a house. Would you really want someone telling you you can't have an open container in your house? If you made the law such that it only applied to the operator of the vessel, that might not be a terrible idea, but good luck enforcing it.

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You're a crook, Captain Hook.
Judge, won't you throw the book
At the piii-raaaate...

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I didn't know that you could attach a douchenozzle to a power washer, but here it is in all its glory.

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Accept responsibility for what you did, asswipe.

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