WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge has opened the door for the family of a Florida teenager to sue his friend’s mother after the boys never returned from a fishing trip off Florida’s Atlantic.
U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas on Monday lifted an injunction that kept Pamela and Philip Cohen from suing Carly Black in state court. She owned the 19-foot (6-meter) boat her son Austin Stephanos was in when he left Jupiter Inlet on July 24, 2015, with the Cohens’ son Perry. Both were 14.
The Palm Beach Post reports the two families had fought in federal court over a maritime law that limits the amount anyone can sue for to the value of a damaged boat. The boat is worth $500.
The Cohen family previously said they wanted to go forward with additional damages litigation, according to court documents.
Black’s attorney, George Harris, told the Post that he has no comment, adding it is not appropriate in light of pending litigation.
The Cohens’ attorney, Guy Rubin, told the newspaper previously that under law the petitioners have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The two-year anniversary is approaching.
The boys disappeared during a storm off the coast. Their capsized boat was initially found about 60 miles (96 kilometers) off Daytona Beach, but it wasn’t secured by officials. It was eventually recovered in the Bahamas by a Norwegian cargo ship.
The boys were never found.
In June, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a report that concluded there was probable cause to charge Black with child neglect. The state did not file charges, according to the report.
The report said Black didn’t notify authorities or the Cohens that the boys were missing until several hours after she last had contact with them. Investigator said Black told them it was common for the boys to go fishing together, and she believed they were “the victims of a tragic mishap.”
Black attempted to reach Austin after the storm started, but there was no response, investigators said in the report. She alerted other family members and friends before contacting Perry’s parents, who called 911.
The state’s investigation showed “the egregious lapse in judgment and failure to exercise due care had the effect of culminating in the disappearance of both boys who are now believed to have perished,” the report said.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos said there may have been poor judgment, but boating on the open seas was not an “inherently dangerous activity,” according to the report.
The Gainesville firm Six Maritime conducted its own analysis of the search for the boys and concluded they likely remained together until they died off the Georgia coast, according to the state report.