U.S. District Court

Schooner passenger files suit against Maine Maritime Museum, disputes claims of immunity filed by nonprofit

Wed, 10/27/2021 - 2:30pm

BATH/PORTLAND – An attorney representing the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath asked U.S. First District Court in Portland in August for immunity from any potential lawsuits filed by passengers who sailed on an historic schooner that capsized in late July in the Kennebec River. A passenger subsequently filed suit in the same court, disputing the museum’s claims for immunity.

The Mary E, owned by the museum, tipped onto its side on the evening of July 30 after sustaining a knock-down while on a voyage with 18 people on board near Doubling Point. The vessel, built in 1906, was on a sail, the “Schooner Mary E: Kennebec River Sail and Lighthouse Adventure” with 18 passengers aboard when she began to list, eventually leaning on her port side. 

Good samaritans and first responders rescued those on board, and the 115-foot schooner was towed back to the museum’s dock.

Attorney William H. Welte, of Camden, filed a complaint Aug. 20 requesting exoneration from limitation.

“This Complaint is being filed within six months of any claim made against Plaintiff in writing,” he wrote, in the document.

On Oct. 19, a passenger on the Mary E filed her own counterclaim, including claims of gross negligence and lack of basic safety standards.

Karen Baldwin, who is listed as a Maine resident and represented by Attorney Joseph M. Orlando, Jr., of Orlando and Associates in Gloucester, Massachusetts, filed a lawsuit Oct. 19, in U.S. District Court, disputing the museum’s claims.

Welte filed the claim based on reasoning that lawsuits would be filed claiming personal injury, pain and suffering and other damages. Such claims will exceed the value of the vessel that has a post-casualty value of $150,000, according to the complaint.

He said the museum “used due diligence to make the subject vessel seaworthy and safe” and that it “was properly equipped and supplied, and in all aspects seaworthy and fit for the services for which she was engaged.”

Baldwin’s suit alleges gross negligence for failure to maintain safe conditions for the passengers, including not using the most basic safety equipment on the vessel along with a failure of the crew for not being properly trained to navigate the vessel so it would not capsize.

Baldwin said in her complaint that although there was a safety briefing about where to find the life jackets and how to put them on, there was no instruction or any requirement to wear a life jacket during the voyage.

The complaint described the point in the voyage when the vessel started to pitch heavily to the port and then pitched so far that water came over the rail and flooded Baldwin’s feet and legs.

“When the vessel laid down, the passengers, including the Plaintiff, went into the water,” the counterclaim said.

She eventually went into the water, hit her head and was in an area of wires, ropes, and a sail that she said had not been raised during the voyage.

Baldwin said a friend grabbed four life jackets that were floating around which they used to tread water. She was taken to shore by a rescue boat from the Bath Fire Department and received medical care.

“As a direct and proximate result of the negligence, gross negligence and unseaworthiness of the Defendant, its’ vessel and its crew, the Plaintiff sustained severe personal injuries, suffered great physical and emotional pain, accumulated medical and hospital bills and other out of pocket expenses, and was damaged in other ways as will be proven at trial,” according to the lawsuit.

Sarah Shepherd can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com