SIMS, Ryan (b. c. 1985), Conception crew member, was the first to file suit against his employer, Truth Aquatics. Sims was one of five crew members who survived the Labor Day burning of the vessel off Platts Harbor on September 2, 2019. Sims broke his leg jumping from the upper deck of the vessel to the main deck to escape the fire. He had only been working for the company for three weeks, and was hired as a steward (galley helper) and was serving as First Galleyhand at the time of the accident.
His suit was filed in the wrong county—Platts Harbor, Santa Cruz Island is in Santa Barbara County.
NTSB 4.5.5 First Galleyhand “The 34-year-old first galleyhand had been working on the Conception for about 3 weeks before the accident. Before being hired by Truth Aquatics, he had worked in the hospitality industry for about 11 years. He had no prior experience working on vessels; he did not hold, nor was he required to hold, a merchant mariner credential. During an interview with law enforcement officials, the first galleyhand stated that he had made about five or six voyages on the Conception, the first two under the supervision of the first galleyhand whom he eventually replaced. The first galleyhand’s duties included purchasing food and stores for each voyage, developing the menu and preparing food, and supervising the second galleyhand.”
In the News~
September 19, 2019: [LAT]: “Less than two weeks after the worst maritime disaster in modern California history, a crew member who survived the inferno that gutted the Conception and killed 34 people aboard has sued the dive boat’s owners. Ryan Sims, who had been a steward on the boat for just three weeks, alleges in a lawsuit filed Sept. 12 that the Conception’s owners were negligent in their failure to properly train crew members, give adequate safety and medical equipment and provide safety rules, among other claims. According to the lawsuit, Sims was awakened by loud noises and realized a fire had broken out on the boat and was spreading fast. In an effort to escape the fire, Sims jumped from the top deck, breaking his leg in three places and injuring his back and neck, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit lists Truth Aquatics Inc., Worldwide Diving Adventures and the Conception’s owner, Glen Fritzler, as defendants, according to records from Ventura County Superior Court. Sims is seeking punitive damages as well as attorney fees and medical costs from his injuries. “He’s just trying to get stable at this point,” said Sims’ attorney, Kurt Arnold. “As you can imagine, it’s quite a traumatic event.” The suit signals the beginning of a potentially long legal battle for the owners of Conception, who have already taken steps to protect themselves from liability. Less than a week after the inferno, attorneys for Fritzler and his wife, Dana, filed a petition citing the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, asking a judge to eliminate their financial liability or lower it to an amount equal to the post-fire value of the boat, or $0. California boat fire: Plaintiff’s original complaint for damages Sept. 19, 2019. The body of the 34th victim had not yet been recovered when the Fritzlers filed their motion. In a now-deleted statement posted on the Truth Aquatics’ Instagram page, the company said the legal step was “another unfortunate side of these tragedies. When something like this happens, insurance companies and numerous stakeholders convene and activate a legal checklist. The timing is on them. Our hearts and minds are on the tragedy and finding answers.” Normally, victims of maritime tragedies have three years to file claims, but because of the Fritzlers’ motion, the surviving crew members and victims’ family have just a matter of months, said Arnold, whose firm represented victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The motion presents an additional legal hurdle, requiring Sims and any other victims who file claims to prove the owners knew about any problems that led to the tragedy. It is a process that can take up to two years, Arnold said. Arnold called the move an “offensive weapon to slow families’ recovery.” “This is typical,” Arnold said. “They say they’re sorry... but behind their back they’re filing a limitation action. They didn’t have to, but they chose to.” Sims was one of five crew members asleep on the deck of the Conception at the time. According to a preliminary NTSB report, one crew member was awakened by a noise and saw fire rising from the salon compartment below. He alerted the other crew members, and they attempted to reach the passengers sleeping in the bunkroom below deck. They were unable to use a ladder, which was on fire, so they jumped down to the main deck. Sims broke his leg in the process. Unable to reach the lower part of the boat that was engulfed in flames, the crew jumped overboard. The survivors made their way to a nearby vessel, the Grape Escape, to call for help. After raising the alarm, some of the crew returned to the Conception to look for survivors, but none was found. Video of the moments after the crew’s rescue shows a man, presumed to be Sims, screaming in agony as paramedics move his leg. Russell Brown, an attorney representing Truth Aquatics, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Legal experts have said owners of boats in which people are hurt or killed succeed about half the time in winning court rulings. Tulane University maritime law professor Martin J. Davies said the 1851 law could shield Conception’s owners from significant damages. The result would depend on whether the Fritzlers can prove they had no knowledge of the problem that caused the disaster. Last week, officials raised the remains of the Conception from the seafloor. The NTSB is continuing its investigation into what caused the fire.”
September 19, 2019: [Pacific Coast Business Times]: “A crew member who was aboard the dive boat Conception when a fire broke out Labor Day weekend, sinking the vessel and killing 34 people, filed for damages against the owner Truth Aquatics and dive charter company Worldwide Diving Adventures. In filings in Ventura County Superior Court, Ryan Sims said he was asleep on the top deck of the vessel when he was awakened by loud noises. He said the fire had trapped him and the other employees, forcing him to jump from the top deck, when he fractured his leg in three places, and sustained other injuries that required extensive medical treatment. Among other claims, Sims alleged that Truth Aquatics did not properly maintain the vessel or train its employees, provide adequate safety equipment and rules. The vessel was operated with an obvious dangerous condition, the filing says, and did not have an adequate means of emergency evacuation. Attorneys for Truth Aquatics did not immediately return calls from the Business Times. The company has said it took reasonable care to ensure the vessel was properly manned, equipped and maintained and filed in court shortly after the incident to limit its liability under a commonly invoked maritime law. The Sept. 12 filing sought damages under the federal Jones Act, alleging unseaworthiness and general maritime negligence. A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board reported similar accounts by four other crew members who were aboard the Conception when it was anchored at Platts Harbor off the Channel Islands on the final night of the three-day dive trip. Investigators recovered the remains of the boat Sept. 12, and have not filed any charges or released information on the cause of the fire. The U.S. Coast Guard issued an advisory in response to the incident warning boat operators to review their emergency equipment and procedures, and pointed to potential fire hazards posed by lithium-ion batteries left to charge.”
September 19, 2019: [KEYT]: “VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - A crew member who broke his leg while trying to reach passengers on the Conception dive boat has filed a lawsuit against the owner of the boat, claiming the Conception was operating in dangerous condition and didn't have proper emergency evacuation procedures. The Pacific Coast Business Times first reported the lawsuit Wednesday. It was filed by Ryan Sims in Ventura County Superior Court on September 12. It lists the Fritzler Family Trust, Truth Aquatics, and Worldwide Diving Adventures as defendants. The Fritzler family owns Truth Aquatics, which operated the Conception. According to the Pacific Coast Business Times, Sims was working on the Conception when it caught fire early Labor Day morning off Santa Cruz Island. 34 people were killed. The report says Sims was one of the five crew members who survived the fire. According to the report, the lawsuit claims Truth Aquatics did not properly maintain the boat or train employees. It also says there wasn't adequate safety equipment, rules or means of evacuation. KEYT has reached out to the Fritzler family for comment. The NTSB released its preliminary report on the investigation last week and said investigators were still trying to determine what caused the fire. The report detailed the steps crew members took to reach passengers who were trapped below deck.”
September 20, 2019: [edhat]: “A crew member who survived the deadly Conception boat fire on Labor Day is now suing the boat's owners. The diving boat caught fire off Santa Cruz Island on September 2 and killed 34 passengers who were asleep below deck. Five crew members survived by jumping off the boat. Ryan Sims filed a lawsuit of September 12 alleging the Conception's owners were negligent in their failure to properly train crew members, give adequate safety and medical equipment and provide safety rules, among other claims, reports The Los Angeles Times. The lawsuit was filed in Ventura County listing Truth Aquatics Inc., the company that owned the Conception boat; Glen Fritzler, the owner of Truth Aquatics; and Worldwide Diving Adventures, the company who chartered Conception for the weekend; as defendants. Sims was awakened by loud noises and realized a fire had broken out on the boat and was spreading fast. In an effort to escape, he jumped from the top deck breaking his leg in three places and injuring his back and neck, the lawsuit states. Sims is seeking punitive damages as well as attorney fees and medical costs from his injuries. Truth Aquatics filed a lawsuit to potentially limit their liability on September 5 in U.S. District Court of Los Angeles claiming it was not liable for any damages from the victims' families because the vessel was seaworthy when it caught fire. Owners Glen and Dana Fritzler are named as plaintiffs in the filing which states, "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." The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report on September 12 stating all six crew members were asleep at the time of the fire. Five of the crew members were on the top deck when one of the crew woke up due to a noise and saw fire had engulfed the salon below. He then alerted the rest of the crew where they made numerous attempts to reach the passengers below deck but were unable to due to the fire. Crew members were forced to jump overboard and contacted a nearby vessel to call for help, according to crew statements recorded in the NTSB report. The 33 passengers and 1 crew member died from smoke inhalation, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Coroner. The U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB recovered the wreckage of the Conception boat on September 12 and continue their investigation. Criminal charges have not been filed but the U.S. Coast Guard issued an advisory warning boat operators to review their emergency equipment and procedures and pointed to potential fire hazards posed by lithium-ion batteries left to charge. The final NTSB report will not be available for 12-18 months where a cause of the fire will be determined.”
September 20, 2019: [Mercury News]: “Crewman who broke leg fleeing doomed California dive boat sues owner. Lawsuit alleges negligence in Channel Islands boat fire. One of the five surviving crew members on the dive boat Conception when it burned and sank on Labor Day, killing all its passengers off the Channel Islands has sued the boat’s owners for negligence and damages from breaking his leg while fleeing the flaming vessel. Ryan Sims, 34, whose lawyers said he worked as a steward aboard the vessel and had only been on the job three weeks, claimed in the lawsuit that the vessel was unseaworthy and its owners negligent in failing to properly maintain it, train its crew and avoid potential fire dangers. The lawsuit was filed Sept. 12 against dive boat operator Truth Aquatics Inc. of Santa Barbara and the company’s owner, Glen Fritzler, in Ventura County Superior Court. It also names the Santa Cruz diving company that chartered the weekend trip, Worldwide Diving Adventures, whose co-owner Kristy Finstad was among those who perished. The suit seeks unspecified general and punitive damages alleging unseaworthiness, negligence and violations of the U.S. law governing maritime commerce.”