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Dive Boat Owner Sues to Avoid Liability After Fire That Killed 34

Truth Aquatics owns the Conception, which caught fire and sank off the California coast
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2019 3:50 PM CDT
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In this Sept. 2, 2019, file photo, provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a dive boat is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast.   (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File)

(Newser) – Truth Aquatics, the owner of the Conception dive boat that caught fire and sank off the California coast Monday, sparked controversy when it filed a lawsuit seeking to avoid liability in the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member in the tragedy. But the family that owns the company tells KEYT the move may have been misinterpreted. "Unfortunately, that's just kind of a normal cause of action in maritime law and this is the action that [was] advised to us and we need to take," Glen Fritzler says. Per KSBY, Truth Aquatics also addressed the matter on Facebook, writing, "Regarding the lawsuit, as we are learning, this is another unfortunate side of these tragedies. This wouldn’t be something that we as a family would even consider, yet when something like this happens, insurance companies and numerous stakeholders convene and activate a legal checklist."

As Fox News explains, the lawsuit was filed "under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law" that would allow the company to notify anyone who could make a claim against it that it is asserting it is not liable for damages; anyone served would then have a limited amount of time to challenge that assertion. The suit says the owners "used reasonable care to make the Conception seaworthy, and she was, at all relevant times, tight, staunch, and strong, fully and properly manned, equipped and supplied and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the service in which she was engaged." The 1851 law was meant to bolster the shipping business and has been used successfully by owners of many crafts, including the Titanic. Many were upset the lawsuit was filed just three days after the Conception burned, but Truth Aquatics says in its statement that the family was not in control of the timing. "We are grieving and reeling and just doing what we are advised by experts both on investigative and legal fronts." Meanwhile, while 33 bodies have been recovered, the search for the 34th has been suspended through Monday due to high winds. (Read more Conception dive boat stories.)

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