Today, a ferry traveling from New Jersey to Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan and carrying 326 passengers (as well as 5 crew members) crashed into the pier at a high rate of speed causing numerous injuries. As of the time of this post, two passengers were listed as being in critical condition. This particular boat, operated by Seastreak LLC, a private ferry company, was involved in a terrible accident in 2003 that killed 11 people. The question presented now is what sort of criminal or civil liability that company or its crew members might be facing as a result of this accident.
As a preliminary matter, it is virtually certain that dozens, if not hundreds, of passengers will be considering lawsuits against Seastreak for negligence. Their attorneys will have to determine why the boat crashed (and may have the assistance of the Coast Guard or law enforcement in determining this question) and whether either the operation or maintenance of that boat somehow fell below acceptable minimum standards. If so, then the passengers injured by the crash can expect significant monetary awards.
Law enforcement may have to determine whether any criminal liability should attach as well. First and foremost, if any of the passengers ultimately die as a result of injuries sustained in the crash, then employees of the company could theoretically be looking at charges of Criminally Negligent Homicide, a Class E felony under Penal Law Section 125.10, or even worse, Manslaughter in the Second Degree, Penal Law Section 125.15(1) a Class C felony.
A person is guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide when, with criminal negligence, he causes the death of another person. “A person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a result or to a circumstances described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” See Penal Law Section 15.05.
A person is guilty of Manslaughter in the Second Degree when he recklessly causes the death of another person. “A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstances described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware of an consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but is unaware thereof solely by reason of voluntarily intoxication also acts recklessly with respect thereto.” See Penal Law Section 15.05. The driver of the boat might theoretically be charged with Assault in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section 120.00, a Class A misdemeanor) for negligently causing physical injuries to another person or persons by means of a dangerous instrument.
If the operators of the ferry were determined to have acted recklessly, then charges for Reckless Endangerment and Reckless Assault might also apply for any injuries caused to victims that were hurt but not killed. A person is guilty of Assault in the Third Degree (Penal Law 120.00, a Class A misdemeanor) if he “recklessly causes physical injury to another person,” and can be charged with the Class D felony of Assault in the Second Degree (Penal Law 120.05) where he “recklessly causes serious physical injury to another person by means of a … dangerous instrument,” such as a ferry, arguably.
Obviously, if the operators of the vessel were intoxicated at the time of the crash (though there is no such evidence available at this point), then a whole host of other criminal charges could apply as well, particularly under the Vehicular Homicide statutes in Chapter 125.
If you or a loved one were injured in the recent ferry crash, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced attorney to determine whether you may have a viable injury lawsuit against the ferry operators.