March 24, 2018
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Kayak owner can’t be sued for groom’s death

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

HANCOCK, Maine — A California woman who owns a cabin and kayak used by a Massachusetts man who drowned in Frenchman Bay during his honeymoon has been absolved of any responsibility in his death, according to federal court documents.

Eric Hogan and his wife, Sarah Kellogg Hogan, of Webster, Mass., had been married for three weeks when they rented a cabin at Hancock Point from its owner, Judith L. Bell of Aromas, Calif.

On June 19, 2011, the day the young couple was due to return to Massachusetts, Hogan used a sit-on-top type of kayak that came with the rental property and went out around 7 a.m. for a paddle alone on Frenchman Bay. Strong winds kicked up later that morning, which officials believe prevented Hogan from returning to shore.

Hogan’s wife reported him missing around 11 a.m., after he had failed to return. When searchers found him floating in the water off Hulls Cove around 1:30 p.m., he was unresponsive.

According to Marine Patrol, the type of kayak Hogan went paddling in offered no protection from wind and waves. Hogan was wearing a life preserver but otherwise was not dressed for the weather conditions, which included wind gusts of more than 30 mph and water temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees. Aside from the life preserver, Hogan was wearing shorts but no shirt, officials said at the time.

Bell filed a complaint in March in U.S District Court in Bangor, seeking to be exonerated or limited from liability in Hogan’s death.

In court filings, Bell said she purchased the paddle boat, manufactured by Ocean Kayak, in May 2009 for $296.61. Bell indicated in her petition that she had not yet been sued but had received a notice of claim that has alerted her to a potential wrongful death lawsuit.

Among documents filed in federal court by Bell’s attorney, William Welte of Camden, is a copy of a letter sent to Bell on Oct. 3, 2011, by attorney Timothy Ryan of Springfield, Mass. In the letter, Ryan indicated he represented Eric Hogan’s estate “in connection with a claim for wrongful death.” Ryan indicated that the information pamphlet that came with the cabin rental advised that renters could use kayaks at the property for their enjoyment.

“Sarah Hogan confirms that had the kayaks not been made available, that Eric would not have gone out that morning,” Ryan wrote in the letter. “It is our contention that the kayak was not seaworthy, that plus the fact you encouraged and allowed individuals such as Eric Hogan to kayak in cold sea water without a wetsuit were the proximate and legal cause of this heart wrenching tragedy.”

Contacted by phone Tuesday, Ryan said he knew nothing about the default judgment and declined comment.

Welte also was contacted by phone on Tuesday afternoon and likewise declined comment.

In court filings, Welte indicated he sent Ryan a letter on Dec. 8, 2011. In the letter, Welte indicates there is no insurance coverage that would apply to Hogan’s death and that the facts of the case do not support any claims of negligence against his client.

In court documents, Welte indicated that he never received any written response from Ryan and spoke to him only once, by phone on March 27, 2012.

“[He] recalled my letter, stated he did not have an answer for me and that he would get back to me in two weeks time,” Welte wrote.

He added he has not heard from Ryan since that phone call.

After receiving Bell’s petition for exoneration on March 29, which was filed within the six-month limit federal law sets for such petitions, federal Judge Nancy Torreson set a filing deadline of June 4, 2012, for anyone who may have wanted to assert a legal claim against Bell in connection with Hogan’s death. No such claim was filed by that deadline, court documents indicate.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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