Lawyers for the victims of the lethal Labor Day 2019 MV CONCEPTION dive boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara today filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Coast Guard. The complaint alleges that the agency must be held accountable for repeatedly certifying the “fire trap” small passenger vessel that was riddled with blatant life-safety violations – including a non-compliant, overloaded electrical system – linked to the September 2, 2019 inferno.
The complaint (Estate of Lisa Fiedler, et al. v. United States of America, U.S. District Court Central District of California, No. 2:21-cv-07065) was filed by the plaintiffs’ legal team on behalf of the victims who perished in the worst such disaster in American maritime history.
Jeffrey P. Goodman, a partner at Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C., and speaking for the legal team, said, “There are two very different sides to the United States Coast Guard. First, you have the brave men and women who risk their lives in critical safety missions. They continue to have the appreciation and admiration of us all. However, the other side of the Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring that only properly certified vessels are on the waters. The Coast Guard has failed in that mission for decades by not enforcing certification requirements and routinely allowing non-compliant and unsafe vessels on the water. Had the Coast Guard properly inspected CONCEPTION, it never would have been certified, never set sail, and these 34 victims would not have lost their lives. Sadly, certifying non-compliant vessels is commonplace at the Coast Guard.”
The time has come for the Coast Guard to be held accountable for its failures to protect those victims and prevent future maritime disasters on America’s waterways.
Jeffrey P. Goodman
Mr. Goodman serves as co-lead counsel along with John Hillsman of McGuinn, Hillsman & Palefsky and Gretchen M. Nelson of Nelson & Fraenkel, LLP. Multiple additional firms actively participated in the preparation of the complaint and will be pursuing claims against the Coast Guard on behalf of the victims.
The complaint alleges that the Coast Guard acted negligently and carelessly by certifying CONCEPTION (first launched in 1981) even though it was in clear violation of the Coast Guard’s “own protocols, procedures, and checklists” that were developed and enacted to ensure proper vessel design, engineering, and safe operations.. Specific, documented inspection and enforcement lapses by the Coast Guard detailed in the complaint included:
- A diesel-powered electrical system that did not comply with any of the standards set forth in wiring standards under 46 CFR 183.340 and was composed not of UL Boat or Marine cable called for by such standards but of cheap, everyday Romex wire of the kind one would buy at Home Depot. The vessel’s inadequate electrical system was already stressed by the addition of the nitrox generation system to the point where the galley stove and the nitrox system could not be operated at the same time. Despite the obvious hazards, passengers were encouraged to freely charge their various battery-powered devices in the patchwork electrical system.
- Non-compliant fire detection and suppression systems, and passenger-accommodation escape routes that were in open and obvious violation of Coast Guard regulations. The passenger salon and all of its furnishings were also flammable, including the carpeting on the deck and the acoustic tile on the overhead.
- A closed and unmarked, twenty-two-inch-by-twenty-two-inch emergency-escape hatch tucked into the overhead above the aftermost berths in the longitudinal block of single bunks which opened onto a cramped space beneath the aftermost counter in the salon.
It was unsurprising that after the disaster, when the Coast Guard inspected CONCEPTION’s sistership VISION, it “discovered numerous glaring deficiencies in VISION’s wiring and electrical systems, fire detection and suppression systems, and passenger-accommodation escape hatch.”
Jeffrey P. Goodman / firstname.lastname@example.org / 215.840.6450
Steph Rosenfeld / email@example.com / 215.514.4101