Court Agrees To Extension In OC Scallop Boat Lawsuit

OCEAN CITY – Faced with the deadline of serving summonses to the defendants and the risk of having the window to proceed with the case close on him, a local commercial scallop boat owner, whose vessel became grounded off the coast of the resort in September 2006 last week, successfully petitioned the court for an extension to either track down his attorney or secure new counsel.

Local fisherman Douglas Kelly, owner of the “Mighty Duck,” the commercial scallop vessel that grounded in a storm off the coast of Ocean City and eventually slammed into the Ocean City Fishing Pier in the fall of 2006, last September filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Ocean City Mayor and Council and the U.S. Coast Guard for allegedly failing to assist in the salvage of the boat before its ultimate demise. Salisbury attorney David Honick filed the suit on Kelly’s behalf, but in the months since, the plaintiff has not reportedly been able to contact his counsel as the deadline for serving summonses to the plaintiffs nears.

Last week, Kelly wrote a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake seeking an extension. Kelly explained he hired Honick last spring and the suit was formally filed last September. However, Kelly later learned Honick had been hospitalized for a time last fall, but efforts to contact him have been unsuccessful. At the risk of having the case closed because certain deadlines were approaching, Kelly successfully petitioned the court for an extension.

“This case means a great deal to me,” the letter reads. “I have lost my livelihood as a fisherman and am pressed to proceed with my case in a reasonable period of time. I respectfully request the court’s extension for a period of time that will allow me to either locate Mr. Honick or secure the services of another attorney.”

In the early morning hours on Sept. 11, 2006, the fishing boat “Mighty Duck,” a 42-foot Novi scallop boat operating out of the commercial harbor in West Ocean City, ran aground in storm-tossed seas just off the coast of the resort. It was left at the mercy of the seas, which were churning with high winds and rough surf before it eventually slammed into the historic pier, causing pilings to fail and deck boards to buckle to the tune of about $25,000 in damages.

The “Mighty Duck” remained wedged under the pier for much of the day before town workers were able to secure it with lines from the beach and eventually pull it from the ocean using a complex block and tackle system and several vehicles. The “Mighty Duck” was ultimately dismantled on the beach and removed by dump truck in several large pieces.

Exactly three years to the day of the incident, Kelly filed a civil suit in federal court alleging negligence on the part of the town of Ocean City and the Coast Guard for the ultimate demise of the “Mighty Duck.” The suit is seeking $250,000 in damaged from each of the defendants in the case.

Most of the allegations in the 10-page complaint revolve around the actions of the defendants in the hours after the vessel first ran aground. According to the complaint, the Coast Guard responded to the grounded vessel around 2:40 a.m. and subjected the captain to a breathalyzer test, which yielded no presence of alcohol, according to the complaint. However, with the captain no longer aboard, the vessel continued to founder in the heavy surf and ultimately slammed into the pier.

“By compelling the captain to abandon the vessel, and making it impossible for him to further assist with the salvage of the vessel or to mitigate further harm to the vessel, the Coast Guard did not render aid in accordance with the standards of acceptable seamanship,” the complaint reads.

The Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) was notified and responded to the scene to work in conjunction with the Coast Guard from the land, according to the complaint, which is why the town of Ocean City is listed as a defendant. According to the complaint, OCPD officers assured Coast Guard officials they would “keep an eye on the vessel as they patrolled the Boardwalk in the early morning hours.”

The Coast Guard left the area of the grounded vessel and did not return until roughly 10 a.m., by which time the “Mighty Duck” was being slammed into the pier by the surf.

A similar charge of negligence by the Coast Guard is included in the lawsuit, which suggests the federal agency responded in a timely manner to the grounded vessel, but did not take any action to render assistance to the vessel, instead relying on the town of Ocean City and its police and public works departments to deal with the salvage operation.

Eventually, the public works department and the fire department used bulldozers and tow lines to pull the vessel from underneath the pier so it no longer impacted the pilings. According to the suit, the value of the vessel and the gear lost as a result of the incident was $161,000. The estimated cost of repairing the pier came in at $25,000, while the cost of rendering aid by the Ocean City Public Works and Fire Departments cost about $13,000.