Few details are being released of a confidential court settlement that was reached Monday between a Lake George tour boat company and victims of an accident that killed 20 passengers on the lake in 2005.
Forty-seven senior citizen tourists from Michigan and Ohio were on a leaf-peeping cruise on Lake George when their cruise boat overturned, throwing them into the water.
The settlement ends claims against Shoreline Cruises Inc. and its affiliate, Quirks Marine Rentals, as well as the Ethan Allen’s captain, Richard Paris, according to the lead attorney for the victims, James Hacker of Latham.
He said terms of the deal are confidential and will be finalized when U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy completes his review of the settlement.
The accident happened on a calm, sunny day and, after a lengthy investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded the boat flipped because it was overloaded even though it was permitted to carry 50 passengers. The federal board concluded in 2006 that the boat was dangerously unstable because of structural changes done over the years and should have carried fewer passengers, although it was certified to carry 48 passengers plus two crew.
State and federal weight limits have since been modified.
Carol Ann Marsh of Sterling Heights, Mich., was on the Ethan Allen with her mother, Ann Beamish, when the boat capsized. Beamish did not survive.
She said on Tuesday she had not been notified that a settlement had been reached.
“I don’t know anything about it,” she said. “I’ll be happy to hear it’s over.”
She said she had been able to swim away from the overturned boat but her mother drowned.
“You know, we’ve never gotten a penny since this happened to help pay for bringing my mother home,” Marsh said.
She said an attorney she hired in Michigan shortly after the accident informed her she would not win the case against the boat owner. “He dropped me and said we would never collect anything,” she said.
Jean Siler of Trenton, Mich., is another survivor of the Ethan Allen disaster.
She also said she had not been informed of a settlement agreement as of Tuesday.
“I haven’t heard a word,” she said. “I just hope they send some money soon.”
Siler, 79, said she has dealt with the emotional trauma of the incident but she has physical problems that linger, including extremely high blood pressure.
“The doctors can’t say if my problems are related to the accident, but they won’t say there isn’t a connection,” she said.
Court claims are continuing against Scarano Boat Building Inc., which modified the Ethan Allen; Shoreline Travel & Tours Inc., a Canadian firm that organized the Michigan bus tour; and the Lake George Steamboat Company Inc., whose tour boat Mohican was on Lake George when the Ethan Allen capsized.
Calls to their lawyers were not returned Tuesday.
Hacker said Tuesday that he expects a trial sometime next year in the remaining lawsuits.
“Under the circumstances, we’re satisfied with the settlement and we’re going to continue to press forward against the other parties,” Hacker said.
Claims also continue against the state of New York, Hacker said. Shoreline had used the Ethan Allen for several years on inland waterways with its annual inspections and recertification under the jurisdiction of the state Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.
“My client’s heart goes out to the families and the victims. To the extent that this helps them, that’s what they want to do,” said attorney Frederic Zinober, who represents Shoreline Cruises and its owner, James Quirk.
“They were Shoreline passengers. My clients just basically did the right thing from a business, and from their perspective, from a moral perspective.”
Shoreline continues to operate other tour boats on Lake George.
Attorneys for the various parties filed to dismiss claims against Shoreline, Quirk and Paris in U.S. District Court in Albany on Monday. The next step is for the federal judge to accept the agreement, Hacker said.
In March 2007, Shoreline and Paris each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge, admitting that there were not enough crew members aboard the Ethan Allen. State navigation law required at least two crewmen, but Paris crewed the boat alone.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board believe the 40-foot boat was rocked by a wake from a passing boat, or multiple boats, and because the modifications caused the boat to be unstable, it overturned.
The grand jury heard conflicting testimony from survivors — some said there was no wake, others said they saw one that was 6 to 8 inches high.