A Conception crew member who was injured in the deadly Sept. 2 fire has sued the dive boat’s owner and charter company for general marine negligence in Ventura County Superior Court.
Ryan Sims is one of the five crew members who survived the blaze, which broke out while the vessel was anchored offshore Santa Cruz Island during a three-day scuba diving trip.
All 34 people in the lower-deck bunk area were killed, including 33 dive trip passengers and one crew member.
This unlimited civil lawsuit was filed Sept. 12 by Texas attorney firm Arnold & Itkin LLP.
“In the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, (Sims) was asleep on the top deck of the vessel, as was required in his job parameters. Suddenly and without warning, Plaintiff was abruptly started awake by loud noises, and quickly realized a significant fire had broken out in the vessel,” the complaint says.
“The fire moved fast and swift throughout the vessel trapping Plaintiff and other persons aboard the vessel. Given the significance of the fire, and the layout of the vessel, Plaintiff was required to jump from the top deck of the vessel to avoid fire at which time he fractured his leg in three places, as well as injured his back, neck and other parts of his body.”
The case alleges general marine negligence by Truth Aquatics, the Santa Barbara company that owns and operates the Conception as well as two similar dive boats, and Worldwide Diving Adventures, the company that chartered the vessel for the Labor Day weekend trip. It also names Glen Fritzler, the Truth Aquatics owner, as a defendant.
“On the date in question the vessel was unseaworthy,” the complaint alleges, and accuses the companies of negligence for failure to adequately repair and/or maintain the vessel; failure to properly train their employees; failure to provide adequate safety equipment and medical equipment; failure to timely eliminate known hazards; failure to provide adequate means of emergency evacuation; and operating the vessel with an obvious dangerous condition, among other claims.
“In all reasonable probability, Plaintiff’s physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment, and disfigurement will continue indefinitely,” the case alleges, and asks the court for unspecified damages.
Fritzler previously filed a lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court to limit liability in the dive boat disaster.
“At all relevant times, plaintiffs used reasonable care to make the Conception seaworthy, and she was, at all relevant times, tight, staunch, and strong, fully and properly manned, equipped and supplied and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the service in which she was engaged,” that case claims.
A February hearing has been scheduled for Sims’ civil case.
Attorneys filed the case in Ventura County court and said in the court documents that the Conception was anchored in Ventura County at the time of the fire.
The vessel was anchored offshore Platt’s Harbor, on the mainland side of Santa Cruz Island.
Responding agencies, however, determined the incident was in Santa Barbara County jurisdiction, and assigned the cause of death investigations to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau.
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department is working with federal investigators on the cause of the fire, and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office’s Victim Witness Program is helping victims of the Conception dive boat fire and their families.