Wrongful Death: Electrocution Fall into Marina Water Admiralty or Not?

Wrongful Death Ruled Admiralty Claim

A professional malpractice case will continue in 13th Circuit Court against a lawyer who represented the family of a man who was electrocuted and drowned after jumping into water at Clinch Marina. The judge ruled that this wrongful death claim was properly governed under admiralty law.

Judge Thomas Power on Monday denied a motion from attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who argued admiralty law didn’t apply to the personal injury lawsuit at the center of the malpractice case against him. Fieger represented the family of Michael Knudsen, an 18-year-old who died after jumping into electrified water in Clinch Marina in 2011.

“There was admiralty jursidiction in relation to this tragic drowning,” said attorney Richard Goodman, representing Michael J. Long in the malpractice case.

The City of Traverse City and Clinch Marina were dismissed from the Knudsen family’s personal injury suit. They also were dismissed in a similar suit, in which Fieger represented Zachary Allen Kott-Millard, who said he was shocked when he jumped into the marina’s water to help Knudsen. The city and marina were granted immunity based on state law.

Michael J. Long, representing Knudsen’s estate, argued Fieger could have avoided the dismissals had he filed the original case under admiralty law instead of state law. He filed a professional malpractice suit against Fieger in 13th Circuit Court in February.

Kott-Millard in February also filed a professional malpractice case against Fieger.

Admiralty, or maritime, law applies to cases involving navigable waters, according to Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

Goodman said an incident has to have three elements in order to fall under admiralty law: it must happen on water, involve maritime activities and have the potential to interfere with maritime commerce.

Knudsen’s death and other incidents that could have stemmed from the electrified water could have disrupted businesses such as the tall ships that dock in the marina, said Kathleen Kalahar, an attorney representing Long.

“The potential impact is much greater,” Kalahar said. “There’s electrified water … . This was a disaster waiting to happen.”

Clinch Marina rules prohibit commercial activity in the harbor, Fieger’s attorney Theresa Asoklis said Monday. She argued the evidence Kalahar submitted isn’t admissible in court.

“(It’s) anecdotal hearsay evidence that simply isn’t part of the record,” Asoklis said.

Asoklis said admiralty law didn’t apply to the Knudsen family’s personal injury case.

Long is an estate lawyer representing the Knudsen family, Goodman said. He will distribute reparations to the family should he be successful in the malpractice suit.

“Ultimately we hope the case will be tried before a Grand Traverse County jury,” Goodman said. “We’ll present our case and they’ll decide it.”  Story Here.

Attorney Ed Kramer is experienced in offshore and river injury claims. Contact him at the Law Firm (225) 933-1500 for a free consultation regarding your case.