By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Nov 29 (Reuters) - New York state is not
liable for the 20 deaths and nine injuries that resulted after a
Lake George tour boat capsized in 2005, the state's top court
The Court of Appeals on Thursday unanimously held that the
state had no "special duty" to the 47 people who boarded the
Ethan Allen before it sank. Federal investigators found that
state inspectors had significantly overestimated the boat's
State law requires inspectors to certify the safety of tour
boats, including the maximum number of passengers allowed
"However, these statutory obligations do not create a
special duty of care owed by the state to particular
passengers," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote for the court.
When the Ethan Allen was first inspected by the state in
1979, its passenger maximum was set at 48. The boat was
inspected annually, and it was substantially modified in 1989,
the court said. Inspectors "rubber stamped" the boat's capacity
despite the modifications, the court said.
On Oct. 2, 2005, 47 passengers and the captain, Richard
Paris, filled the boat, when it capsized. Twenty passengers died
and nine were injured.
According to a 2006 report from the National Transportation
Safety Board, the boat was capable of safely carrying only 14
passengers and it sank because its total load was more than
three times what it should have been.
The boat's owner, Shoreline Cruises, and Paris were
convicted in 2007 of criminal negligence and fined $250 each.
Shoreline subsequently settled civil claims filed by 17 of the
passengers and their relatives for an undisclosed sum.
Nine survivors and the relatives of the 20 people who died
sued the state in 2009, claiming inspectors were negligent. The
state claimed it had sovereign immunity.
Court of Claims Judge James Ferreira in 2010 denied the
plaintiffs' motion to dismiss the state's immunity defense. The
Appellate Division, Third Department, last year reversed,
finding that the boat inspectors may have failed to exercise
discretion in certifying the boat's capacity.
The Court of Appeals on Thursday disagreed.
"Although the law is clear, the upshot is that, regardless
of any negligence on the part of the state, the victims of this
disastrous wreck are essentially left without an adequate
remedy," Lippman wrote.
The plaintiffs' attorney, James Hacker, said he and the
plaintiffs were disappointed.
The lesson is that "when any safety inspection performed by
New York state is incorrect and injures somebody, (the victims)
have absolutely no remedy," he said.
The Attorney General's office declined to comment.
The case is Richard Metz v. State of New York, New York
State Court of Appeals, No. 208.
For the plaintiffs: James Hacker of Hacker Murphy.
For the state: Andrew Bing of the state Attorney General's
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