Nov 20, 5:31 PM EST

Passenger hurt in New York ferry crash to get $5M


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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Three passengers injured when a commuter ferry crashed into a lower Manhattan pier in 2013 have recently settled lawsuits for a total of nearly $6 million, including $5 million for a passenger who suffered brain injuries.

More than 80 people were injured on Jan. 9, 2013 when the Wall Street-bound Seastreak crashed into a dock near the South Street Seaport, sending people tumbling down stairs and into walls.

The settlements were signed this month in the ongoing litigation against Seastreak LLC, owner of the vessel.

One of those injured was John Urbanowicz, who recently settled his case for $5 million. According to court filings, Urbanowicz, 43, suffered a skull fracture and brain injuries and underwent multiple surgeries.

Samantha Bremekamp, who suffered back and brain injuries and had spine fusion surgery, will receive $560,000, according to court filings. Richard Diver will receive $325,000 for a concussion and back injuries that required spine fusion surgery.

Norman Hobbie, an attorney whose firm represented those plaintiffs and more than 20 others in the case, said the three preferred not to comment on the settlements.

"We remain hopeful that this matter will be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, recognizing that no amount of money will ever truly compensate the injured claimants for the injuries they suffered," he said.

About a dozen plaintiffs still have claims pending against Seastreak, Hobbie said. Many of the claims already settled involved less serious injuries and were settled for amounts less than $100,000.

An attorney for Seastreak said the company considered the recent settlements fair.

"We were interested in resolving them, and these folks had significant injuries," Gino Zonghetti said.

A motion by Seastreak to limit its liability to the value of the ship - about $7.6 million, Zonghetti said - has yet to be decided in court. According to Zonghetti, the company has settled claims totaling about $6.85 million so far.

A report released by the National Transportation Safety Board in April faulted ferry captain Jason Reimer for leaving the vessel running on a rarely used backup system that left him unable to control it as it approached the pier. The report also faulted Seastreak for "ineffective oversight" and said Reimer was hampered by a lack of training and familiarity with the backup system.

Reimer switched to the system after sensing a vibration in a propeller just north of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, about halfway in the commuter ferry's midmorning run from Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, to lower Manhattan, investigators concluded.

In backup mode, the propellers remain angled forward, causing the ferry to increase speed instead of slowing down.

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