A judge last week tossed a legal life preserver to a man who crashed his boat into a 40-foot-high marker in Boston Harbor, that left one passenger drowned, saying he could continue to make his case under federal maritime law that it's not his fault he plowed into the large fixed structure early one summer morning last year.
The ruling, by US District Court Judge Allison Burroughs, means Ryan Denver of the Seaport can continue to press his claim that the most he has to pay out for damages in any lawsuits would be the value of what is now a wrecked boat locked up by State Police. Francis claims the boat is now worth no more than $50,000 - although the federal government, which owns the 40-foot-tall beacon his boat plowed into, and which wants him to pay for repairs to the navigational marker, questions that amount.
Meanwhile, a Beverly man Denver sued for allegedly circling the foundering passengers after the crash and then sped off without rendering aid, could lose insurance money to pay his lawyer. In a separate action, insurer AIG wants to remove itself from Lee Rosenthal's defense, saying he has refused to sit for an under-oath interview about what happened out on the water as he was cruising around on his father's boat with three friends of his brother's and two of their acquaintances around 2:50 a.m. on July 17, 2021.
Separately, Denver is still facing trial, now set for next spring, on criminal charges that include manslaughter for the crash.
Following the crash, Denver filed in US District Court in Boston for a declaration of "limitation of liability" under an 1851 federal law originally meant to deal with storms and pirate attacks that limits how much ship owners can be forced to pay out as damages.
The law limits the liability of owners who have no "privity or knowledge" of whatever incident led to their ships' demises. Denver's bid for a formal declaration of a limitation is being fought by the family of Jeanica Julce, who died, and the other passengers, who were injured, some seriously, when Denver's Make It Go Away slammed into Daymarker 5, a steel structure topped with a flashing beacon between Castle Island and Spectacle Island meant to warn large ships away from shallow waters. They question how he could not have knowledge of a crash when he was himself at the wheel of the boat at the time.
In her ruling today, Burroughs said Denver had made enough of a case, albeit "only barely," for her to let the case continue through pre-trial depositions and then to a jury because of supposed negligent acts by others that Denver could not have been aware of.
Specifically, Burroughs cited Denvers's allegations that the Coast Guard failed to illuminate the marker structure or wrap it with reflective tape, that he was blinded by searchlights from two nearby ships conducting dredging, that Denver had taken the same GPS-enabled path back into Boston Harbor that he had taken out of it and that Julce drowned not because of the crash, but because Rosenthal failed to help her out of the water when he and his boat were right there.
[T]he Court concludes that Plaintiff’s complaint contains just enough factual allegations to plausibly allege lack of privity or knowledge of negligence and therefore survive the motion to dismiss. Although Plaintiff’s conclusory allegations that he lacked privity or knowledge of negligence need not be, and are not, considered, the complaint also contains several factual allegations that suggest Plaintiff acted reasonably and that the accident and related injuries were caused by other parties’ negligence.
Burroughs concluded that Denver's assertions, "when considered together, are sufficient, if only barely, to nudge Plaintiff’s claim of reasonableness across the line from conceivable to plausible," and "plausible" is the sort of thing that legally lets Denver continue his case.
While it is entirely possible that discovery will undermine Plaintiff’s factual allegations, that is an issue for summary judgment or the factfinder at trial. The Court’s present inquiry is limited to the pleadings, which are deemed sufficient to withstand the instant motion.