Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, May 17, 2013
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'Diver Judy' blamed for own injuries

Attorneys for a yacht owner argue it is not responsible for a woman injured by the boat's propellers as the legal row over potentially millions of dollars in costs heats up.

Judith Nicole Montague, known as "Diver Judy," still has halos around her leg and much physical therapy to endure, but she is doing well, said her friend and attorney, David Paul Horan.

The Key West lawyer filed a complaint in January before U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King that could force the owners of the 2004, 76-foot, $2.4 million Marlow Explorer yacht Patagon to pay more than the $2 million they've already placed in an escrow account pending the litigation.

Montague was severely cut by the Patagon's propellers while doing maintenance work Jan. 20 under the vessel, which was docked at Key West Bight. She was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami and underwent surgery on her face, head, torso and legs.

Shortly after the incident, Horan filed federal paperwork essentially forcing the Patagon to stay in Key West under the watch of the U.S. Marshal's Office until such bond was posted. King released the vessel on Jan. 25 when the company agreed to post the $2 million bond.

This week, lawyers for the boat's owner -- Patagon Marine Ltd., a company in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific -- filed a motion arguing that Montague was not an employee long enough to warrant a jury trial.

Patagon Marine Ltd. attorney Charles De Leo of Miami did not return a phone message seeking comment.

In question is an admiralty law term called "maintenance and cure," which essentially states that a boat's owner is responsible for the health and welfare of his crew as per the Jones Act of 1920 (also known as the Merchant Marine Act), which formalized the rights of seamen in the United States.

"Is this boat owner responsible for maintenance and cure? That's the question before the court right now," Horan said.

The boat's insurers likely will cover negligence costs, but Horan is arguing that the boat company and owner were grossly negligent or seriously careless enough to warrant millions in medical, loss of income and pain and suffering costs.

Patagon Marine Ltd. argues that Montague is to blame for her injuries, according to court records.

"They're saying they don't even owe the $2 million, because it's her fault," Horan said. "So yes, we're definitely asking for a jury trial. I think any jury would be sympathetic after looking at what she's gone through."

Meanwhile, Horan said he was still trying to figure out who owns Patagon Marine Ltd. The captain of the yacht, Pedro Arpon of Spain, declined to name the owners, according to legal documents filed by Horan.

Though the boat's technical owner is the limited liability company from Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the boat is apparently for sale in Miami for $2.2 million, according to listings with Camper Nicholsons International -- a yacht sales, construction and marketing company.

alinhardt@keynews.com

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