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Stranded sailors’ suit against Travelers allowed to proceed


A federal district court has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against a Travelers Cos. Inc. unit by six sailors who were stranded in Cuba for more than a year and forced to subsist on rats and insects.

Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America had insured a cargo barge and tugboat, Billy G, on which the sailors had worked, according to Friday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in Miami in Eddie Bodden and others, Plaintiffs, v. Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America. Mr. Bodden was the captain.

In June 2013 while on its way to Haiti, the tugboat ran out of fuel near Cuba and the Cuban Coast Guard towed the boat to Cuba, where the plaintiffs all remained stranded for nearly a year, during which time they were without money, food, supplies or medical treatment, until they were eventually repatriated to their home countries.

According to the complaint, one of the crewmen suffered a debilitating stroke that left him with left-sided paralysis, and another badly fractured his arm, while others suffered physical and mental injuries during their ordeal.

The plaintiffs filed suit against Fort Pierce, Florida-based Suncoast Shipping LLC, which operated and managed the tugboat and its barge, and obtained a $3 million judgment against it in state court. It then sought recovery from Travelers, Suncoast’s insurer.

The District Court refused to dismiss the case. “Underlying most of Travelers’ arguments seems to be its contention that the Plaintiffs fail to properly plead their right to bring a direct action against it,” said the ruling. “After a thorough review, the Court finds Travelers’ arguments all miss their marks,” it said.

Among the insurer’s arguments is that plaintiffs did not have a right to file suit under a Florida statute because its policy was a “policy of indemnity not liability,” said the ruling.

However, of the 14 categories of losses and other factors covered under the policy, 11 are introduced as “liability for,” said the ruling, stating it finds Travelers argument “unavailing.”

“The Plaintiffs have sufficiently articulated enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face,” the ruling concludes. “The Court is not persuaded by Travelers’ arguments that the amended complaint should be dismissed,” it said.

Miami-based plaintiff attorney Luis A. Yucci said, “At this point, the plaintiffs are pleased by the court’s ruling and we’re just going to move forward with it.”

Travelers’ attorney did not respond to a request for comment.







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