LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — The widow of a man who died when a dive boat caught fire off the Santa Barbara coast leaving 34 people dead is suing the vessel’s owners.
Christine Dignam, who lost her husband Justin Dignam, filed her claim Monday in Los Angeles federal court.
The lawsuit against Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics is the first from a relative of those who died on the boat.
The lawsuit is a counterclaim to a lawsuit filed pre-emptively by owners of the boat, called the Conception, to protect them from liability under a quirk of maritime law.
Three days after the boat burned and sank into the Pacific, the vessel’s owner filed a lawsuit in federal court asking for help blocking victims’ families from filing lawsuits and limiting how much can be paid out.
The fire is the subject of ongoing criminal and safety inquiries by federal authorities.
On Sept. 27, investigators had finished examining the dive boat but so far have found no cause for the fire.
A two-week examination of the Conception ended without a conclusive cause, an official with knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press.
At 3:15 a.m. on Sept. 2, the U.S. Coast Guard and Ventura County Fire Department crews rushed to a mayday call that the “Conception” — a 75-foot-long charter dive boat carrying 39 people — was ablaze 20 yards off Platts Harbor on the north side of Santa Cruz Island, located about 30 miles west of the city of Ventura.
Those aboard included six crew members and 33 passengers.
Five crew members, including the captain, were above deck and jumped off the burning Conception. They somehow made it into a dingy and paddled to safety, where they were rescued by a nearby good Samaritan’s boat called the “Grape Escape.”
The passengers, meanwhile, were all below deck at the time.
Lawyers for the boat company did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit.