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New Jersey – Manhattan Ferry Crash Update

The New Jersey Ferry, run by Seastreak Ferry, is a major means of transportation for tourists and natives alike. It is free of charge, spacious, and runs frequently between Atlantic Highlands and Highlands in New Jersey and lower Manhattan. The multi-level boats can carry hundreds of passengers and crew on a single trip. Rows of seating are available throughout the boat. Some passengers choose to stand at the perimeter of the boat during the trip to enjoy the view or make a quit exit from the boat. Once the boat is fully docked and the gates on the deck open, the exits get backed up since the boats are usually rather full with passengers. The ferry ride is generally smooth and peaceful, perhaps due to the larger size of the vessels and the relatively flat current on the Hudson.

On January 9, 2013, the ferry made a hard landing straight into the Manhattan dock. The reason for this still appears to be under investigation. Though the operation of a ferry is somewhat complicated in that it involves the study of the mechanics of the vessel and an understanding of the current, landings in this area are not typically expected to be dangerous. The ferry operator on January 9, 2013, Captain James Reimer, was questioned at length after the accident. He and the five member crew were given alcohol and drugs tests, the complete results of which have yet to be released. Captain Reimer said the controls and engines failed, which prevented him from reversing the boat at the appropriate time to slow it and effectuate a smooth landing. The ferry engines have a data storage feature, which will allow an in depth investigation of what happened at the controls just before the crash.

There have been numerous ferry accidents. In 2009, the same ferry was involved in a hard landing which resulted in a large gash being made in the boat. In 2010, a boat was involved in a crash which punctured a hole in the port side of the same boat. The unrelated Staten Island Ferry also has been in several accidents, the most notable being the 2003 crash in which the operator lost consciousness at the controls after taking pain relievers which had drowsiness listed as a known side effect. As a result of this accident, eleven people were killed.

If you were involved in a ferry accident, what should you do? There are pre-conditions and time limitations on bringing a law suit. The New York City Department of Transportation operates the Staten Island Ferry and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates the New Jersey Ferry. That means a notice of claim must be filed before you can sue. New York’s General Municipal Law section 50-e sets out where the claim must be filed, how the claim must be filed, when the claim must be filed, and what information must be included. The notice of claim must be served “within ninety days after the claim arises; except that in wrongful death actions, the ninety days shall run from the appointment of a representative of the decedent’s estate”. In part, the General Municipal Law also provides that “[t]he notice shall be in writing, sworn to by or on behalf of the claimant, and shall set forth: (1) the name and post-office address of each claimant, and of his attorney, if any; (2) the nature of the claim; (3) the time when, the place where and the manner in which the claim arose; and (4) the items of damage or injuries claimed to have been sustained so far as then practicable…” Also, the notice of claim “shall be served on the public corporation against which the claim is made by delivering a copy thereof personally, or by registered or certified mail, to the person designated by law as one to whom a summons in an action in the supreme court issued against such corporation may be delivered, or to an attorney regularly engaged in representing such public corporation or, in a city with a population of over one million, by electronic means in a form and manner prescribed by such city”. Next, the municipality or public authority is usually entitled to demand that the injured individual appear for a hearing before the start of a lawsuit. This means that the individual must appear for a question and answer session, conducted under oath, by an attorney who represents the interests of the entity which is being sued. The topics that are usually covered include the facts and circumstances surrounding the date of the accident, the injuries, the medical treatment, past medical history, and insurance. Everything that is said at the hearing is transcribed to writing and the testimony may be used against the claimant to undermine the claim in the future. It is important that the claimant understand what information must be supplied and how that information should be supplied to opposing counsel.

Leav & Steinberg, LLP recently settled a case venued in Westchester Supreme Court before trial. Compensation in the amount of $187,500.00 was retrieved for a fifty-five year old woman who was standing near a window when the fishing boat she was riding on suddenly jerked, causing her to fall through an unmarked and open hatchway and down a small set of stairs. She sustained injuries to her shoulder and knee, requiring her to undergo dual surgeries in an attempt to remedy her pain.

Another case that was resolved before trial involved a twelve-year old young man who was on a boat ride at camp when his arm became caught between the front of the boat and the tow rope. He sustained a bicep tear and laceration which required numerous stitches. The matter was resolved for $75,500.00.