Missing teens: FDLE revelations could trigger lawsuit


The mother of one of two Tequesta teens lost at sea in 2015 is considering a lawsuit and fighting a court action she says would limit her ability to sue the other teen’s family, her attorney told The Palm Beach Post on Monday.

Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, were last seen sailing through the Jupiter Inlet on July 24, 2015. State reports made public last week found that a storm on the Atlantic forced their boat to sink and that an “egregious lapse in judgment and failure to exercise due care” let them head out into the Atlantic in those conditions.

CLICK HERE for the Palm Beach Post’s full coverage of the missing teens

The families have been adversaries in a lawsuit since December over a maritime law called the Limitation Act. The act limits the amount boat passengers can sue to the value of a damaged boat after it is salvaged.

The $500 is the salvage value of the empty 19-foot boat used by the boys after it was recovered on March, 2016 off the coast of Bermuda by the Edda Fjord, a 322-foot Norwegian transport vessel.

“It is irrefutable that both Austin’s parents knew that Perry was not supposed to go out of the inlet unsupervised,” said Guy Rubin, the attorney representing Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mother.

If the Cohen family can prove that there was negligence, there would be no limit to the amount of damages that could be sought in a civil suit.

Carly Black, the mother of Austin Stephanos, said through her attorney she would not comment.

“Carly has also suffered the loss of her son, Austin, in addition to the loss of his friend, Perry, as a result of this tragedy. There will be an appropriate occasion for Carly to address the issues contained in the report, but, because of civil litigation, and based upon the advice of her legal counsel, this is not the appropriate time or occasion to do so,” attorney George Harris said.

The Cohen family has not filed a civil suit against Austin Stephanos’s family.

“The new revelations in the FDLE report paint a stark picture, one characterized by a calamity of errors in judgment and missteps that could have potentially averted this tragic loss of life,” according to the statement from Pamela Cohen.

Florida law states wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years after the deaths occur, Rubin said.

“This is not about money. This is the only road available to get the truth,” he added.

On July 24, 2015, the teens left the Jib Yacht Club Marina in Tequesta and headed through the Jupiter Inlet to the ocean. Austin Stephanos texted his mother just before noon. Soon, a strong afternoon storm blew through the area. The boys were never found, and their disappearance made national headlines.

When Black was interviewed, she said it was common for the boys to go fishing together and that she believed the boys “were the victims of a tragic mishap.”

FDLE concluded Black permitted the teens to “go offshore into the Atlantic Ocean, an inherently dangerous environment, in a minimally equipped 19-foot boat with a single outboard motor without adult or parental supervision.”

Investigators said she allowed her son and Perry Cohen to leave without such safety equipment as a radio, GPS or EPIRB device that could have been used to locate the boys. Black and her husband own Grand Slam Sport Fishing Supply in Jupiter, a marine supply store.

Cohen’s parents told investigators that their son was not allowed to go offshore without any adults on board and that both the Black and Stephanos families knew this.

During interviews in 2016, Cohen’s parents told investigators that the FWC investigation did not go far enough, but when pressed for any information about any criminal allegations, the Cohens did not have an answer. In a report released Thursday, the FWC said the boys’ disappearance was the result of “a weather-related incident.”



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