Boating accident results in suit Towns, lake authority among those targeted
Towns, lake authority among those targeted
Published 7:10 pm, Wednesday, June 30, 2010
A lawyer representing the estate of a man killed in a double-fatal boating accident on Candlewood Lake is suing more than 70 defendants he claims were responsible for the crash.
Attorney Agostinho Ribeiro of Danbury filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jason Wanat of Redding, who died July 19, 2008 when the speedboat he was riding in collided with a fishing boat on the darkened lake.
The suit is the latest and, in terms of the number of parties being sued, the largest, in the string of litigation stemming from the crash, which also killed the operator of the speedboat, Richard "Teddy" Layton of New Milford, and critically injured another passenger, Danbury fireman Kevin Sullivan, a Bridgewater resident.
The two occupants of the fishing boat, who were taking part in an overnight bass fishing tournament, were less seriously hurt.
Mr. Wanat's lawsuit names more than 70 defendants, including the injured fisherman, William D'Addio of Mahopac, N.Y., his passenger, 22 other members of the sportsmen's club participating in the tournament, delegates to the Candlewood Lake Authority and its staff, members of the lake patrol, as well as the five municipalities comprising the lake authority -- New Milford, Sherman, Danbury, Brookfield and New Fairfield.
Not named in the suit was Mr. Layton, who state Department of Environmental Protection investigators have said was responsible for the accident because he was intoxicated, speeding and operating in violation of established rules of navigation.
Mr. Wanat's estate previously had settled claims against Mr. Layton's estate out of court, according to attorneys involved in the case. The four parties divided proceeds from his boat insurance policy.
Mr. Layton, a tanker driver for his family's oil business, was operating his 24-foot, high-powered Formula speedboat north in the narrow channel between Chimney Point and Vaughn's Neck when it crossed paths with an 18-foot bass boat driven by Mr. Daddio.
The bass boat struck the Formula directly in the cockpit area, killing Mr. Layton and throwing Mr. Wanat overboard. Mr. Sullivan sustained injuries that kept him hospitalized for months, but has since returned to full-time duty, his lawyer, David Bennett of Danbury, said.
Even though the fishing boat had hit the Formula, DEP investigators blamed Mr. Layton because, under the maritime rules, the bass boat had the right of way.
Mr. Ribeiro said experts he consulted will tell a different story.
The suit claims that Mr. D'Addio, a member of the Watershed Bass Masters Association, a New York-based sportsmen's club, wasn't licensed to operate a motorboat on the lake and didn't have a safe boating certificate.
Mr. D'Addio was also operating without proper lighting, didn't have a working horn, or failed to use it, and was speeding, Mr. Ribeiro said.
The other fishermen who are members of the club, the club itself, and an associated organization, the New York Bass Chapter Federation, are being sued because they failed to ensure Mr. Daddio was licensed and qualified to operate on the lake, Mr. Ribeiro said.
"It sounds like they are suing everybody and everything connected with the tournament," said Mr. D'Addio's lawyer, Russell Palmer of Middletown.
Also named as defendants are the Candlewood Lake Authority, including its director, Lawrence Marsicano, several authority officials and the 15 delegates to the board, as well as 23 members of the lake patrol.
"It's disappointing that it's gone this far," Mr. Marsicano said. "We feel it is pretty meritless."
Both Mr. Ribeiro and Mr. Bennett said they also plan to bring actions against the state DEP but, in order to do so, they must first seek the approval of the state's Claims Commission.
A report released by the lake authority last year indicated more boating accidents occurred on Candlewood Lake between 1998 and 2007 than on any other recreational body of water in the state.
Reasons given include the lake's size, the high number of users, the number of fishing tournaments every year, and the number of marinas and municipal boat launches ringing the lake.
"For too long, the lake has been like the Wild West, not patrolled or supervised, and for too long, lake safety has been about finger-pointing, excuses and confusion, " Mr. Ribeiro said.
"Perhaps this lawsuit will shed light on exactly who is in charge to protect the public," he concluded, "and regulate the amount of boat traffic and fishing tournaments."