Two Willamette Jetboat tourist vessels collided head-on. Now, a controversial law could block the prosecution of passengers.
On a cloudy day in Portland, a jet boat on the Willamette River carried a group of students from Tualatin Elementary School and their parents. The other boat was carrying tourists, including a Canadian pop star.
While skirting a narrow curve coming from opposite directions at high speed, the two ships collided head first, injuring several passengers, including at least one child.
Now the leading Portland company that owned both boats, Willamette Jet Boat Tours, asks a federal judge to protect him from costly lawsuits, saying that passenger injuries due to the crash “were not caused or were not caused by the fault and negligence” of the company or of its crews.
The boats were operated “in a safe and conscientious manner and in accordance with all applicable federal and state laws,” the company says.
The litigation highlights a 170-year-old law that limits the legal exposure of boat owners, a law recently targeted by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Representative Salud Carbajal in federal legislation introduced last week.
Willamette Jetboat Excursions declined to comment for the article, as did company attorney Kurt Peterson of the Harrang Long law firm.
The blue Willamette Jetboat branded ships have become a staple of the Portland scene over the past decade. They cross the Willamette and other waterways at a speed of 40 miles per hour or more. Tickets cost $ 55, or $ 40 for children 11 and under.
Primary school group
On June 4, Andrea Haslewood and her 11-year-old daughter were thrilled to celebrate the end of the school season. From the travel agency’s launch site, they boarded the Osprey jet boat with two dozen other children and parents. All were celebrating the end of classes at Mitch Charter School, which is part of the Tigard Tualatin school district.
The boat headed south to Oregon City, then turned north. The company advertises a lot of “” go fast and turn and you’re going to get wet, “and that’s you know, the fun,” Haslewood said. “And it was really fun.”
It ended with a narrow curve.
“We were going at high speed along the left side of the Willamette bank,” Haslewood recalls, “we came to a blind spot and another boat from the same company hit us head on.”
When the boats collided, the bow of the larger Peregrine Falcon climbed over the bow of the Osprey, smashing its Plexiglass windshield and injuring some of the relatives sitting in the front row of the excursion boat, according to Haslewood.
“The front of the boat was completely mutilated,” she said.
“A lot of the kids were pretty shaken up and really scared… I later found out that a lot of the kids had dislocated fingers and… bumps and bruises,” she said.
“My daughter broke her arm.
The injured include the songwriter of “Bad day”
Peregrine Falcon passengers were also injured, according to a complaint filed in July.
Among the plaintiffs was Daniel Powter, known for his single “Bad Day”. The song has become a staple from the American Idol TV show with its upbeat take on when “everything goes wrong.”
The passengers of the Falcon “suddenly saw another jetboat circling the river also at high speed,” the complaint continues. “Two ships collided violently back and forth. The metal shattered, the glass shattered, the crew was distraught and the passengers screamed in terror as these would-be plaintiffs were tossed around the ship.”
The lawsuit says boat operators have failed to obey state navigation laws that require ships on rivers to stay right or starboard and operate safely.
Powter and two other passengers who filed the complaint sustained unspecified serious injuries and are seeking at least $ 5.5 million in damages, plus attorney fees, according to the complaint.
The lawyer of the Falcon passenger, Anderson Carey’s Adam Deitz, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
The jetboat company sues
Last month, Willamette Jetboat filed her own lawsuit in federal court, denying any liability, asking for “disclaimer” and citing a federal law called the “Shipowners’ Limitation Act”.
Passed in 1851, the law has been invoked in major and high-profile ocean accidents ranging from the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 to the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
The law allows boat owners to limit their damage to the value of the vessel after an accident if no negligence is proven.
As one legal blog put it, the law “allowed the owners of the Titanic to limit their liability to the value of the surviving Titanic lifeboats, to only $ 92,000 at the time, after the Titanic sank in April 1912. , killing more than 1,500. ”
More recently, he was invoked in an attempt to avoid responsibility in the deaths of 17 people in a sinking duck in Missouri and in the deaths of 34 people in the fire and sinking of a dive boat called the Conception. in California, both in 2018.
On September 22, Feinstein and Carbajal introduced legislation to Congress aimed at eliminating the law – which Carbajal called “antiquated and unfair” and at restoring the ability of family members of Conception victims to recover damages.
Company sued before
Willamette Jetboat Excursions’ legal record requests that total payments to its passengers be limited to $ 300,000, which it estimates to be the combined value of the boats after the collision.
This appears to be the first time the company has invoked the 170-year-old law. But going to court is not a first.
The company has been sued nine times since 2002. In these, passengers and other boaters allege injuries and negligence, two of them claiming that unsafe practices resulted in broken backs.
“It wasn’t clear how they were operating with us at that time, so I wouldn’t be surprised to know that this has happened in the past as well,” said Haslewood.
She is skeptical of Willamette Jetboat’s claim that the company and its employees did not take responsibility for the collision. “Someone was at fault, and it was one of their drivers,” she said.
Haslewood says his daughter’s arm is healed. But the 11-year-old suffered panic attacks when the family tried other boat trips.
“She gets really nervous and starts crying uncontrollably and talks about remembering the accident. And she’s not sure she wants to do that anymore,” Haslewood said. “It’s heartbreaking that she is still grappling with the emotional impact of this.”
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