The owners of the diving vessel that caught fire in California and killed 34 people last week filed a pre-emptive lawsuit last week, seeking to limit payouts to the families of victims.
The lawsuit was filed three days after the boat caught fire, while families were still grieving, and bodies of the victims were still being removed from the water.
In response to a sharp backlash, Truth Aquatics Inc. blamed its insurers for the swift filing of the suit, citing legal precedent and saying "the timing is on them."
The FBI has opened a criminal probe into the company.
The owners of the diving boat that caught fire in California last week have blamed their insurers for a lawsuit that they filed to limit their payouts to victims' families, calling it an "unfortunate side of these tragedies."
The Conception vessel caught fire off Santa Cruz Island in early last Monday. Of the 39 people on board the ship, only five survived: the captain and four crew. As of Monday, one body is yet to be recovered.
Truth Aquatics Inc., which owns the Conception, filed a lawsuit on Thursday — three days after the fire — arguing that it should not be liable to pay damages because the vessel was seaworthy when it caught fire.
The company and its owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler, using a maritime law from 1851, argued that their liability should be limited to the value of the boat's remains — which is nothing.
Maritime legal experts called the move "heartless," while also noting that it is not uncommon.
Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via Reuters
Truth Aquatics answered the criticism in a series of Facebook and Instagram comments on Friday and Saturday, in which it said that "insurance companies" and numerous unnamed "stakeholders" forced them to file the lawsuit.
In normal circumstances, they "wouldn't even consider" such a course of action, the company said.
Here is the comment:
"Regarding the lawsuit, as we are learning, this is another unfortunate side of these tragedies. This wouldn't be something that we as a family would even consider, yet when something like this happens, insurance companies and numerous stakeholders convene and activate a legal checklist. The timing is on them.
"Our hearts and minds are on the tragedy and finding answers. We are a small-family run business. For 45 years we have never had an incident. We are grieving and reeling and just doing what we are advised by experts both on investigative and legal fronts.
"We understand there will be a lot of angst and anger around this event."
Truth Aquatics did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for clarification into the "legal checklist" and the actions of their insurers and other stakeholders.
The comments came as the FBI, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Coast Guard opened a criminal investigation into the company over the fire.
The US Coast Guard said last week that the Conception had passed all its safety tests before it set sail.
However, a preliminary investigation suggested that the boat lacked safety measures, including somebody whose job it was to stay awake in case of fires or other problems, the LA Times reported, citing unnamed law-enforcement sources.
The Conception caught fire around 3 a.m. The crew members who survived said they couldn't get to the passengers, who were sleeping below the ship's hold.
They were also blocked from opening the doors of the galley because of the flames, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said last week.
Truth Aquatics has yet to respond to Business Insider's request for comment on the ongoing criminal probe.
However, Glen Fritzler said in a Sunday night statement that the company is "prevented from commenting on details of this active investigation."
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