Wisconsin residents may remember a boat fire off the California coast that claimed 34 lives in September 2019. In the days following the tragedy, media outlets reported that no night watchmen were patrolling the boat’s three decks when the fire started. This violation of maritime law is one of the reasons why the families of four of the fire’s victims have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the boat’s owners.

The plaintiffs allege in their lawsuit that the boat’s owners were aware of dangerous conditions on the vessel but allowed it to depart on its voyage anyway. They also claim that the boat’s fire escapes were inadequate and no fire precautions were taken when volatile lithium-ion batteries were recharged overnight. The fire broke out during the night and most of the victims were overcome by smoke as they slept. Only the boat’s captain and four members of its crew managed to escape the blaze.

The boat’s owners have also taken legal action. They filed a lawsuit in federal court just three days after the fire that seeks to prevent or limit their financial exposure based on an obscure 1851 maritime law. The law, which was first introduced in 18th Century Britain to encourage the shipping industry, was also cited by the owners of the Titanic following its 1912 sinking. However, the law only protects boat owners when the facts reveal that they were not at fault.

Families are often left financially vulnerable when a breadwinner’s paycheck is suddenly lost, which is why experienced personal injury attorneys may calculate damages in wrongful death lawsuits with great care. When pursuing this kind of litigation, attorneys could seek damages to make up for the income the victim would have earned had they lived as well as cover the bills the family had to pay like funeral and burial costs.