A Pennsylvania woman who traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands with her family for a vacation experienced a horrifying accident that nearly took her life. She sued Wharfside Watersports, and the individuals whom she believes were responsible for her severe injuries that caused her constant pain.
The woman named Loren Kokot filed a lawsuit against St. John Front Desk, LLC doing business as Wharfside Watersports, M/V Clickbait, and its owner Chase Herro as well as its captain Michael Ramsey in the U.S. District Court for the Virgin Islands. She alleged that the defendants caused her sufferings because of their negligence
Wharfside Watersports is chartering motor vessels including the M/V Clickbait for day excursions within the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Its principal place of business is located in St. John Virgin Islands.
Chase Herro is a U.S. citizen and a resident of Los Angeles, California. He is the owner of M/V Clickbait, a 34-feet Sunsation CCX motor vessel with triple Mercury 350 horsepower outboard engines.
Michael Ramsey is a citizen and resident of St. John, Virgin Islands. He is the captain, master, and operator of M/V Clickbait at the time of the terrifying accident.
Allegations against the defendants
In the lawsuit, Kokot claimed that she nearly died and is now suffering from painful, severe, and permanent injuries because of the defendant’s negligence.
In April 2019, the plaintiff’s brother-in-law, Steven Snyder did an online search for excursions for a family vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands. He found the website of Wharfside Watersports and contacted the company by phone.
Snyder spoke to Wharfside Watersports owner Justin Bartosh, who advised him to rent two vessels for his group. Bartosh told Snyder that his company had two vessels, the M/V Poseidon and M/V Clickbait, which would be suitable for his group’s excursion. He booked the vessels—$1,200 for each boat plus the extra fee for fuel, and customs fees—for June 15, 2019.
On June 15 last year, Snyder and his guests including plaintiff Kokot were at the National Park Dock in St John at 9:00 a.m., waiting for M/V Poseidon and M/V Clickbait. The charter boats were late and when they arrived, neither had drinks and the snorkeling gears, which were part of the deal. The charter boats with the passengers aboard returned to the beach at Cruz Bay, St. John to get the drinks and the snorkeling gears.
The captains, Nathan Fletcher for Poseidon and defendant Ramsey for Clickbait “seem to have little information” about the charter boats, according to the plaintiff in her lawsuit.
The plaintiff also claimed that Ramsey did not provide safety instructions or demonstrations, and did not tell passengers where to sit on the vessel. He allegedly failed to warn them about the danger of sitting on the bow/front of the vessel while underway.
During the voyage, Kokot was seated in the bow of the charter boat. Ramsey allegedly operated M/V Clickbait at a speed that was unsafe.
Plaintiff Kokot sustained life-altering injuries, needed spinal fusion surgery
Ramsey allegedly increased speed and maneuvered the charter boat “headlong into a large wave, which sent plaintiff Kokot hurdling into the air and then slamming violently into the hull of the Clickbait,” according to the lawsuit.
Witnesses including her sister Kim Kelchner “yelled out in distress after watching her sister be thrown violently into the air. Plaintiff Kokot was crying and screaming in pain and yelled out that her back was broken” and then she started to “pass out repeatedly from the pain and injuries,” the lawsuit further stated.
Snyder noted that the plaintiff passed out 3-4 times before the vessel reached the shore. Captain Ramsey allegedly did not provide any assistance to Plaintiff Kokot after she was injured. In fact, the captain of M/V Poseidon was the one who called 9-1-1.
According to the lawsuit, “As [the] owner of the vessel, Chase Herro is explicitly responsible for any damages stemming from negligent operation of that vessel pursuant to 25 V.I.C. § 25/302. As the master and operator of the vessel at the time of the incident, Defendant Ramsey is liable to Plaintiff for his negligence pursuant to 46 U.S.C. § 30103. Defendant Ramsey had a duty to operate the vessel in a safe manner and to conduct the overall trip in a manner that ensured the safety of [the] Plaintiff and the rest of the passengers.”
Moreover, Ramsey, on behalf of himself and Wharfside Watersports, operated the vessel in a negligent manner, including, but not limited to operating the vessel at a rate of speed in excess which was safe for the water conditions, and failing to keep an adequate watch for high seas,” the lawsuit stated.
As a result of the defendants’ collective negligence, Kokot “suffered severe and life-altering injuries, including, but not limited to, a burst fracture of her L-4 vertebrae necessitating spinal fusion surgery.” She is now living in constant pain due to her injuries, need medical treatment and intervention or the foreseeable future. She believes that the defendants are liable for all of her sufferings.
Plaintiff’s prayer for compensatory damages and relief
The plaintiff requested the court to issue a warrant of arrest of the M/V Clickbait pursuant to the Supplementary Admiralty Rule C and enter a judgment in rem against the charter boat and award its full value in her favor, and to award her court costs and other reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the case.
In addition, Kokot asked the court to declare that she has a valid and existing maritime lien on the charter boat and issue an order that the U.S. Marshal sell M/V Clickbait to pay and satisfy the judgment in full.
Furthermore, the plaintiff claimed that the actions and inactions of Wharfside Watersports Chase Herro and Michael Ramsey constituted negligence. The company allegedly failed to provide a safe vessel excursion; failed to ensure that the vessel/operator held proper liability insurance; allowed an excursion during unsafe conditions; failing to ensure that the passengers were aware of all foreseeable risks, failed to comply with local and federal statutory regulations, and many other failures.