Family will sue marina in electrocution death

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The family of a teenager who was electrocuted while swimming at Clinch Park Marina in Traverse City, Mich., was expected to announce a lawsuit this morning against the city-owned marina.

Lawyers Geoffery Fieger and Dean Robb were set to announce the filing of a $50 million lawsuit at a morning press conference.

Michael Knudsen, 18, died Aug. 15 while swimming with friends.

In a statement, Fieger said bad wiring at the docks caused the teen’s death and that the marina knew about the problem before the accident.

Traverse City city manager Ben Bifoss told Interlochen Public Radio he was aware that a lawsuit was likely, but declined to comment.


16 comments on “Family will sue marina in electrocution death

  1. Jim

    Bad wiring in marinas has been the rule not the exception. I have done many electrical surveys on boats in the SF Bay Area and find that marinas rarely take responsibility for bad wiring. Fortunately, at least the newer marinas have GCFI protection. I don’t see how or why a marina would overlook a situation where there was enough current in the water to kill someone. The right type of circuit protection would have avoided this death. BTW, if you have detached the safety ground in your boat to avoid electrolysis, you are in much greater danger of an onboard shock or electrocution.

  2. Rick Dieterich

    They don’t allow swimming in all the marinas around here (CT). Stay current is always an issue. I wonder if swimming is allowed at the marina in MI.

  3. Scott B

    NFPA 13 covers the correct wiring for shoreward connections. Many marinas and yacht clubs are not up to these standards. An inspection on the dock(s) for stray current and non compliant wiring issues should be done periodicly by the facility using a qualified electrican. The wiring on each individual vessel should meet or exceed the voluntary standards of ABYC.

  4. Chris Foster

    What makes more sense? The financial exposure of a law suit and the tragic loss of human life or the cost and effort of bringing the electrical system up to standards? Sounds like another case of being penny wise and pound foolish on the marina’s part.

  5. John McDevitt

    NFPA 303 Marinas and Boatyards as well as NFPA 70 The National Electrcial Code (Section 555) contain the rules and regulations for electricity in a marina. The NEC requires GFCI type devices EVERYWHERE you find electricity near water – except the on the dock. Fault electrcity usually originates in a boat. Unfortunately there is no means to alert the marina manager about the problem or circuit interruption to prevent damage, injuries or death.

  6. Chester

    Well let’s look at the issue, probably no charge to swim in this area. No life guard. Probably a sign that stated No Swimming from dock or Nor responsible for inujuries to do swimming or Swim at your own risk.
    When wil we take responsiblity for our selves. I’m sure that other swimming areas were availabe, you may have to pay to get in. I know these public swimming areas follow all the guidlines to keep your family safe.
    I feel for the parent who have lost a child and I feel for the marina owner who will have to hire a attorney to protect his livehood. We have no winners in this case.

  7. yachtbroker

    New Marina, Floating docks, No Swimming in the marina, A swimming area and beach separate but right next to the marina. Tragic Accident and Loss, But an Accident.

  8. floridafishfinder

    A lot of good comments and observations here. Generally speaking of the marinas I frequent in SW Florida there seems to be a Universal “No Swimming” policy. I fully agree with Chester’s assertion of Personal Responsibility and ‘there are no winners, here.’
    Now with that being said, due to the nature of a marina it is generally considered likely that people would come in contact with the body of water on or near the docks fairly regularly. Stray current is not an unheard of thing and a qualified marine manger or property superintendent would be aware from industry publications, articles and or CMM classes. A competent manager would conduct regular testing for stray current as a part of the marina’s SOP. Stray currents affect more than ‘swimmers’ touching ground. If a stray current was detected a prudent and competent manager would immediately locate the source and resolve the issue. A prudent and competent manager (owner) would install GCFI into all the wiring in the marina. Consider the issues raised if a spark from a stray current ignited fuel at the fuel docks….there are no winners here… I’m just sayin’.

  9. George Henne

    GFI protection on docks feeding shore power to boats in the marina would be tripping constantly due to the virtually unlimited potential voltage “leaks” inside the damp environment of many boats…sitting in the water, not to mention the wet bilges inside. Condensation is attracted to the electrical equipment’s metal surfaces every morning when the sun comes up…the cool metal is like a magnet in a humid environment with warming air. Some boats have metal hulls and most all have at least exposed metal from the shafts and propellers which can carry current to the water. The point is, swimming in a marina around boats is extremely dangerous and the signs of “NO SWIMMING” should include a threat of a fine. Some marinas have metal bulkheads and the stray current transmitted from the power company’s pole ground wires unavoidably enter’s the ground at the marina. I have taken voltage readings in marina waters over the years and some were so high they were dissolving shafts and props.

  10. Kevin

    ABYC has attempted to address this hazard with a recently added requirement in the wiring standard for boats (E-11) that includes installing an ELCI leakage trip circuit breaker in the boat’s main AC wiring. This device trips at 30mA rather than 6mA to avoid nuisance tripping while still providing considerable protection against leakage from the boat. Blue Sea Systems offers a variety of products, such as the new SMS Surface Mount System, to retrofit these devices to existing boats, and it can reduce the risk associated with faults on that boat. Coast Guard sponsored studies have shown that the risk to swimmers is much greater in fresh water than in salt water so boaters in fresh water have more risk and potential liability exposure.

    Recreational swimming in Marinas should certainly be discouraged, but it is common practice to have divers examine zincs and fittings and clean bottoms without removing the boat from the marina. Divers should be cautioned to turn off power to any boat they are working on. Even then, there are ways for defective marina wiring to create hazards that cannot be prevented by measures taken just on the boats.

  11. ex-capt.

    This may just be the wake-up call that brings attention to a real problem. Many of the fresh water drownings in and around pleasure boats may have been caused by AC current leaks. I’ve been told by Capt. David Rifkin that 30 to 50 milliamps stray current in fresh water can paralyze a swimmer. Dave has campaigned for isolation transformers or special GFCIs for boats and the ABYC has supported his efforts with new standards.. The Coast Guard has completed a 250 page study on the problem in the “In-Water Shock Hazard Mitigation Strategies” report Richard A. Blackman.
    “No Swimming” area or not, a boater reaching for a line or jumping to the dock could suffered the same fate if they fell in (and a couple of beers wouldn’t help the situation). Then you might hear “he was always a good swimmer, I can’t understand it”.

  12. Jim G

    In a crappy little marina off the Dania cut off canal and I-95 near Fort Lauderdale we measured 110V AC in the water after my canvas guy welded his drill to the windshield installing snaps for a new top. The aluminum frame grounded to the water through the windshield wiper motor and then to the drive line. No AC circuit on the boat. Shall I say that Florida Power and Light responded promptly?

  13. yachtbroker

    Laywers will be Laywers
    This is a dream-shot for Robb & Feiger
    I’de love to hear him argue this one without Feiger.
    The city has a $5M liability policy. Whats next ? A settltment, Bond issue?
    We all suffer.
    The marina staff runs a tight ship, but you can’t stop someone from making a decision that violates a posted rule. I feel for the loss of F & F’s
    But it will be a challange for the jury to award
    So let the $how begin.

  14. Gabriel

    Here we go, all marinas must have bad wiring because of one isolated incident. Just like the expensive retrofits to ‘public only’ swimming pools because of a tragedy that involved a private hot tub, I am sure government will over react where there are good laws already in place.

  15. Roger G

    I think all the marinas I have been around have signs posted saying ‘no swimming’ and ‘no fishing’. Never included is a reason, such as ‘danger of electrocution’. The implication is always that these activities are a obstruction to the boaters using the marina. It is clear to me that the reason for the warning should be posted. Divers to change porpellers, etc., should be using a meter to test the water for stray currents.

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