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Scottsdale Injury Lawyers Obtains $550,000 Settlement for Arizona Client Injured On Charter Fishing Trip

On November 15, 2018, lead trial attorney, Tony Piccuta, attended a mediation in Los Angeles, California and obtained a $550,000 settlement for his client. Piccuta attended the mediation with his Arizona client who lives in North Scottsdale. The case arose from an injury that the client sustained while on a deep sea fishing charter trip off the coast of California. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California and is entitled Bakkila v. Channel Island Sportfishing Center (CISCOS), Et Al. (Case # 5:17-CV-02438)

The Facts As Alleged By Our Personal Injury Attorneys

The lawsuit filed by Scottsdale Injury Lawyers alleged that the firm’s client travelled to California to visit his son. While there, they decided to go on a deep-sea charter fishing trip out of Oxnard, California. The chartered fishing trip was arranged through Channel Island Sportfishing Center (CISCOS) and was advertised as appropriate for novices, individuals with no experience and children. The client had almost no deep sea fishing experience and booked the trip believing it would be safe. The client booked his trip on a boat called the Seabiscuit that was owned by Robert Valney and Captained by John Fuqua, Jr.

The client boarded the boat with his son and twenty-two other passengers. The crew consisted of the captain, a galley cook and two deck hands. The captain and crew gave no safety instructions, provided no instructions on best-fishing practices and did not explain what the passengers should do if a fishing line became entangled. The client was never told to bring safety equipment of any kind and was not told that eye protection should be worn or that there was a risk of serious eye injury.

As the client and passengers were fishing, the line of an adjacent passenger became entangled in kelp. The passenger tried to free his line by pulling his rod back toward the boat. In doing so, the line was put under great tension. No crewmember intervened to stop this dangerous practice or cut the line. After about 1-2 minutes, the fishing line broke or otherwise came free. This caused a metal sinker to shoot back toward the boat at a high rate of speed like a bullet. The metal sinker struck the client directly in his eye causing it to explode and rupture. Despite emergency medical treatment, the client eventually lost all vision in his injured eye.

Our Scottsdale personal injury attorneys alleged that the charter fishing company, the captain and the owner were all negligent for doing the following:

  • Failing to safeguard the Client from injury;
  • Failing to reasonably instruct the passengers so as to prevent injuries to others including the Client;
  • Failing to adequately staff the crew to prevent dangerous conditions and minimize perils to the passengers including the Client;
  • Failing to observe the passengers and promptly cut the line that was under tension;
  • Failing to observe the passengers and stop unsafe fishing practices;
  • Failing to warn passengers, including the Client, of the perils associated with the activity;
  • Holding out that fishing with Defendants was safe for all ages including beginners and novices;
  • Failing to require passengers, including Client, to wear safety equipment including protective eyewear; and
  • Failing to notify passengers, including the Client, to bring safety equipment including protective eyewear.

Our injury lawyers further claimed in the lawsuit that the charter company and boat owner intentionally and negligently misrepresented that the fishing trips were safe and appropriate for beginners. This was despite the fact that the charter company and boat owner knew that serious injury and death could occur on these trips and that serious injuries had occurred in the past.

Click the following link to view a copy of the actual lawsuit filed in Federal Court. Bakkila v. CISCO’S Civil Complaint.

Filing the Lawsuit Under Admiralty Jurisdiction

Prior to filing the lawsuit, our personal injury attorneys learned that there was a California Court of Appeals case arising from the exact same circumstances. That case is entitled Mosca v. Lichtenwalter, 58 Cal.App.4th 551 (1997). In Mosca, a charter fishing boat passenger (“Mr. Mosca”) was injured when the line of a second passenger became stuck in kelp and then shot back toward the boat. Like our case, a sinker struck Mr. Mosca in the eye blinding him. However, Mr. Mosca lost his case and received nothing because the court concluded that he assumed the risk of injury and was barred from recovering for his injury. The court concluded that injury from flying hooks and sinkers is inherent in the sport of deep sea fishing.  This meant that if the case was filed in California state court and California law applied, the same result would likely apply to Mr. Bakkila.

After extensive analysis, our personal injury lawyers concluded that the Mosca case and its holding could potentially be avoided if the case was filed under admiralty jurisdiction in federal court and if maritime law was applied. Under general maritime law, the requirements to prove a negligence claim are similar to California law—a party suing must establish that: 1) a defendant owed a duty of care; 2) defendant breached the duty of care; 3) the breach caused the party suing to be injured or harmed, and 4) the breach resulted in damages to the injured party. Samuels v. Holland American Line-USA Inc., 656 F.3d 948, 953 (9th Cir. 2011). However, under general maritime law and unlike California law, “assumption of risk” does not apply. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. v. Smith, 305 US 424 (1939).

The Evidence Obtained by Our Personal Injury Lawyers

After the lawsuit was filed, our personal injury lawyers took the sworn statements (depositions) of the boat owner, the boat captain and the co-owners of the charter company. Those statements suggested that the charter fishing company purposefully omitted the risk of injuries associated with deep-sea fishing from its website and marketing materials. Those statements also proved that nowhere on the approximately 100 pages contained on the charter fishing company’s website did they discuss safety.

The testimony given by the boat owner and captain suggested that they did not care about safety and were not willing to assume responsibility for injuries to charter fishing boat passengers. Below is a true and correct portion of the sworn statement of the boat captain that our injury attorneys obtained during the lawsuit:

Q.    Okay. Well, is there anyone above you on a boat when you’re first captain?

A.    No, sir.

Q.    Okay. So, then, ultimately, who is responsible for the safety of the people on the boat?

Q.     Everybody needs to be responsible for their own safety on the boat.

Q.     Okay. So, as far as your—your position is you’re not responsible for anyone else’s safety but yours?

A.     I am just responsible for my safety and the safety of my equipment on the boat.

Q.     Okay. All right. How about your crew; are you responsible for the safety of your crew?

A.     My crew is responsible for their own safety.

Q.     Is that something you were taught?

A.     Yes, sir.

Q.     Who taught you that?

A.     My father.

Q.     Everyone—every man for themselves, essentially, on the boat; right?

A.     Well, not necessarily. We point out unsafe practices and they just show them how to, you know, not make that practice unsafe.

Q.    Okay. So, when I’m driving a car, I consider myself responsible for the safety of my passengers. Is that not the same thing when you’re on a boat?

A.     It can be, but it all depends on your definition of safety.

Q.     Okay. Well, when I refer to “safety,” I mean making sure people are safe from harm. That’s my definition.

A.     Well, we make sure people are safe from harm by maintaining our equipment and maintaining proper nonskid on the vessel.

Q.     Okay.

A.     So that way nobody can slip.

Q.     How about making sure that passengers on the boat aren’t doing something unsafe when they’re fishing that can harm someone else?

A.     If we see it, we do point it out. That way they can correct themselves in that situation.

Q.     Right. So, when you go out on the boats, do you know anything about the fishing experience of the passengers?

A.      No, sir.

Q.     So, essentially, you run charters with passengers who you have no idea what they’re doing; right?

A.     Yes.

Q.     Do either you or your crew have a responsibility to make sure that the passengers are acting safely and appropriately when on one of these fishing charters?

BUDDINGH:    Objection, vague and ambiguous, compound.

BY MR. PICCUTA:

Q.    You can answer.

A.     I don’t feel like answering.

Q.    You won’t answer that one?

A.    I don’t want to answer that question.

Additional investigation and statements obtained by our personal injury attorneys revealed that at the time of the client’s injury all crew were at the bow of the boat trying to free the anchor which was caught in kelp. As a result, the passengers were left unattended for approximately 10-15 minutes. During this time, the passengers continued to fish and the injury to the firm’s client occurred. Below is additional testimony obtained by our personal injury attorneys from the boat’s captain.

Q.     How long does it normally take you to pull up the anchor?

A.     On average, two to three minutes, in the depth were in….

Q.     And because the anchor was caught in seaweed, how much longer did it take you to reel in your anchor that day?

A.     An extra 10 minutes. …

Q.     Is it fair to say that the passengers on the backside of the boat were going unsupervised for about 12-13 minutes?

A.     Yes, sir.

Click the following link to read the actual mediation brief submitted by our personal injury attorneys in this case. Bakkila v. CISCOS Mediation Brief.

Contact Scottsdale Injury Lawyers For a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury, contact Scottsdale Injury Lawyers today. We provide a free consultation and are experienced in handling difficult and complex injury cases. One of our personal injury attorneys will analyze your case to determine if you have a claim for which you may recover. We handle cases in Scottsdale and the greater Phoenix area as well as all of Arizona and California. Our personal injury attorneys handle cases involving: personal injury, car accidents, slip and fall, product defect, motorcycle crashes, dog bites, assaults, negligent security, workplace injuries, burn injuries, trucking accidents, pedestrian injuries, medical malpractice, among several others.

About the author: The content on this page was authored and prepared by Scottsdale personal injury  attorney Tony Piccuta. He graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington in 2006 (Ranked Top 35 US News & World Report 2018).  Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He is a trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is a member of the Arizona Association of Justice, Maricopa County Bar Association, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project and Consumer Attorneys of California, among other organizations.

Disclaimer: The information on this web site is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Reading and relying upon the content on this page does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact one of our attorneys and discuss your specific case and issues.

Sources:

[1] https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1217684.html

[2] http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2011/09/02/10-35933.pdf

[3] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/305/424

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