News & Blog

The Court of Appeals recently held that the State is not liable for the deaths and injuries due to the tragic capsizing of a public vessel - - the Ethan Allen.

December 26, 2012 • Posted By Joseph A French & Paul Lee • Trial Practice

In 2005, 20 passengers were killed and several others were injured when the Ethan Allen capsized and sank on Lake George.  Claimants commenced the action against the State, alleging that it had been negligent in certifying an unsafe passenger capacity, resulting from the use of outdated passenger weight criteria, and in failing to require a new stability assessment after the vessel had been significantly modified.  The State raised governmental immunity defense. 

Finding that the State owes no special duty to the claimants, the Court of Appeals dismissed the claim that the State’s inspectors failed to certify safe passenger capacity on the vessel.  The Court noted that while the regulatory scheme at issue requires inspectors to issue a certificate of inspection certifying the number of passengers the vessel can safely transport, the statutory obligations do not create a special duty of care owed by the State to particular passengers.  The Court further pointed out that the Navigation Law does not provide a private right of action against the State, but instead only for fines and criminal penalties to be imposed upon vessel owners and operators for violations.

For further information, please contact Paul Lee, Paralegal, or Joseph French