JUPITER, Fla. - We are getting a clearer picture of what may lie ahead in the legal battle between the two families of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen. Austin and Perry are the two Tequesta teens lost at sea.
Austin's mom, Carly Black, and her legal team are using a maritime law dating back to the middle ages as the foundation a of federal lawsuit filed against the parents of Perry Cohen.
“Very old and very archaic rule," explained Joanne Foster, who is bar certified in admiralty and maritime Law. "She wants her liability limited to $500."
Foster says the rule protects the owner of a boat involved in an incident from being sued for more than the value of the recovered boat.
The salvage price of the boat Austin and Perry took out to sea is $500.
However, there is an important exception; proving negligence.
“The owner can’t have been involved in the incident that created the loss,” said Foster. “They have to be without what’s called privity or knowledge of the incident that created the loss."
That's what the parents of Perry Cohen hope to prove, that Black was indeed negligent.
While prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal charges, an FDLE investigation did find Black negligent.
“It’s really gross negligence," said Guy Rubin, Pamela Cohen’s attorney.
Rubin explained Black's federal lawsuit comes with an injunction that prevents them from filing a wrongful death lawsuit in state court.
Rubin says that federal lawsuit forced him to file a wrongful-death claim, hoping to preserve the right to file a similar lawsuit in state court.
“In order to have that opportunity at a later date, once all of the facts were in, we had to assert that a claim possibly existed," explained Rubin.
Rubin's priority is to get the federal injunction lifted. That way, if the Cohens want to file a wrongful death lawsuit in state court by the July 24 deadline, the two-year anniversary of Austin and Perry's disappearance, they can.
“[Pamela] doesn’t take that decision very lightly,” said Rubin. “It’s not about money. It never has been and it never will be. It’s about getting to the truth."
If the federal judge lifts the injunction and the Cohens decide to file a lawsuit in state court, that lawsuit would be heard first.
If the Cohens win, the family would then have to go back to federal court to try and prove negligence, which under the maritime rules, would mean Black would not be allowed to cap her liability at $500.