NY SC rules for state in fatal boat accident case

Stephanie Ostrowski Dec. 5, 2012, 5:52pm

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) -- The New York Supreme Court has dismissed a case over a fatal public boat tour accident.

The 2005 accident on Lake George left 20 passengers dead and several others injured when the tour boat capsized and sank. The court dismissed the case, taking blame off the shoulders of the staet, because of the state's inspection of the boat.

The court opinion, written by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, said that because "the state owes no special duty to these claimants, the claims that the state's inspectors failed to certify safe passenger capacity on the vessel must be dismissed."

The boat, named the Ethan Allen, was subject to yearly state inspections. Inspectors were appointed by the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The Ethan Allen received a certificate indicating the vessels maximum passenger capacity, 48, along with other information, from the inspector.

At the time of the accident, the Ethan Allen was carrying 47 passengers and one crew member which is within the limit allowed of 48.

Constructed in 1964, the tour boats first inspection was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard which granted a 50-person maximum including two crew members.

During the original Coast Guard assessment the average weight per person was 140. Since the accident the average weight for an individual is considered 174 pounds.

ORPHP began certifying the ship from 1979 to the time of the accident in 2005. Despite having modified the Ethan Allen in 1989 with replacing a canvas canopy with a wood canopy, the passenger capacity consistently was certified at 48 persons.

Before trial several state inspectors testified that the vessel's passenger capacity was not independently verified by conducting a stability test, and rather relied on the certified number from the Coast Guard.

The Court of Claims denied claimants' motion to dismiss the state's affirmative defense of government immunity and denied the states cross-motion for summary judgment.

The court found insufficient evidence to be able to determine whether the inspections were proprietary or government in nature. The court also found that the state inspectors failed to exercise any discretion in certifying the vessel's passenger capacity.

Currently proposed legislature to require public vessels to carry marine protection and indemnity insurance is pending.

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