Plaintiffs to appeal watercraft wrongful death verdict

A not-guilty jury verdict in the three-year-old lawsuit waged by the family of a Deltona man who died in a watercraft accident near a staging area for an artificial reef project at Longboat Pass at south Coquina Beach appears headed to yet more litigation.

“We’re appealing everything,” plaintiff’s attorney Tiffany Faddis of Faddis & Faddis P.A of Orlando said last week.

As one of two attorneys for the personal representative of Jose H. Medina and Christie L. Soto during the five-day trial ending Nov. 19, Faddis said an appellate lawyer has been retained for the appeal in the wrongful death case.

A week after the verdict, the plaintiff’s attorneys filed motions seeking a new trial and 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Diana Moreland’s recusal from further proceedings.

An affidavit by Medina’s widow claims Moreland deprived her of a fair trial, and listed 17 grounds, including improper evidentiary rulings as well as anger, hostility, animosity, disrespect and a demeaning attitude toward plaintiff’s trial attorney Eric H. Faddis.

The recusal motion alleges a “well-founded fear she will not receive a fair hearing on account of the bias and prejudice of Judge Moreland against plaintiff and her counsel.”

Earlier this month, Moreland denied Faddis’ recusal motion.

A five-day trial, alleging negligence and involving admiralty law, ended with a defense verdict that found no negligence on the part of McMulley Marine Services Inc. and Pine Island Towing Company. Manatee County awarded McCulley Marine Services the contract for the reef project in May 2009. Pine Island Towing operated the barge.

The judge dismissed the county from the suit on a summary judgment motion before the jury was seated Nov. 13. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the other defendants, Tug Champion Inc. and captains of the vessels, John W. McCulley, Michael Hollingsworth and Roland Blakely.

Medina drowned under the barge while attempting to preserve his disabled personal watercraft July 4, 2009, after he and friends had launched recreational vessels from Coquina Beach Bayside Park.

The tug and the barge were brought from Marco Island to Longboat Pass July 3, 2009, and were moored in the 530-foot channel. It is undisputed that at the time of the accident, the tug and barge were stationary, and the personal watercraft was drifting.

The trial included expert and other testimony relating to admiralty law and an issue about mooring in narrow parts of the waterway on the day Medina and friends ventured out on the watercrafts.

The appeal will seek to overturn the jury verdict, as well as Manatee County’s dismissal due to its limited participation, having hired independent tug and barge contractors, according to plaintiff’s attorney Tiffany Faddis.

As of The Islander press time, the court had not ruled on the request for a new trial.

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