The owners of the commercial diving boat that erupted into flames during a Labor Day weekend accident off the coast of Southern California are now seeking to avoid payouts to the families of the 34 people who died onboard.
On Thursday, Glen and Dana Fritzler of Truth Aquatics, which owned the now-destroyed Conception, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, arguing they shouldn’t owe a single cent for the tragedy, the Associated Press reported.
The Fritzlers are attempting to make their case by using the Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, a statute frequently used in waterway accidents. The couple has requested that the judge either waive their financial liability or adjust it to the boat’s post-fire value ― in this case, $0.
The law was most famously used by the shipping company White Star Lines after the 1912 Titanic disaster during which more than 1,500 passengers were killed on the ship’s maiden voyage. In that instance, the company’s liability was evaluated at $92,000, which equaled the worth of the surviving lifeboats.
In the early hours of Monday morning, a Conception crew member made a mayday call announcing that the 75-foot vessel had caught fire near Santa Cruz Island. Five of the six crew members jumped ship and survived, but the remaining crew member and 33 passengers who died were trapped below deck with no way out.
As of Wednesday, all but one of the bodies had been found and recovered.
Local, state and federal authorities are still investigating what happened, though an early investigation uncovered safety lapses, law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times.
According to the AP, a non-jury trial will be held to determine whether Truth Aquatics can prove it wasn’t to blame for the fire. If it is successful in doing so, claimants will not be entitled to any financial restitution.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated the Conception caught fire near Santa Cruz, and that four out of five crew members made it off the boat. The accident occurred near Santa Cruz Island, and five out of the six-person crew escaped.