WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Palm Beach County judge ruled Thursday the father of Austin Stephanos is not liable in the deaths of his son and his son's friend, who disappeared on a boating trip five years ago.
The lawsuit stemmed from the July 24, 2015, disappearance of Tequesta teens Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen.
The boys, who were both 14 years old at the time, were last seen leaving for a fishing trip from the Jupiter Inlet but were never seen again.
When William "Blu" Stephanos, who did not have custody of his son, learned from his ex-wife that the boys were missing, he decided to search for them on his own boat instead of calling 911.
The Cohen family claimed that by undertaking his own search it delayed rescue efforts by proper authorities. The Cohens' lawsuit said this delayed action reduced the chance of finding the boys alive.
A search was later conducted by the Coast Guard, family members and the public for days after their disappearance, but the boys were not found.
Perry's mother, Pamela, then sued Austin's family, alleging that Austin's mother, his father, William "Blu" Stephanos and grandfather should have equipped the boat with a radio and other safety equipment.
The suit also said Stephanos should have never let the boys go out on the boat alone.
Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley ruled Thursday that "Blu" Stephanos' "search did not increase the risk of harm to Austin and Perry."
"The risk here was that two teenage boys would venture into dangerous conditions at sea and suffer a catastrophic boating accident," Kelley said in the ruling.
Finally, the judge concluded that "Blu" Stephanos "went looking for his son and for his son's companion, Perry. This simple, and understandable act, does not give rise to liability based on the undertaker doctrine."
Stephanos' attorney, Daniel Santaniello, said the ruling was "a bittersweet victory considering our client also lost his son at sea."
"Blu Stephanos did not have custody of his son that day. [The] plaintiffs attempted to argue that Blu undertook some legal responsibility for the disappearance [of] Perry Cohen because he searched for his son, Austin. Thankfully, the law prevailed today when the court agreed with our position that Blu was not legally liable. It was the correct legal decision and puts an end to an extremely emotional case," Santaniello said.
The boys' missing boat and iPhone were recovered in 2016 off of Bermuda.