ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a North Carolina widow’s lawsuit blaming the Coast Guard for failing to save her husband’s life, saying the agency does not have a legal obligation to launch life-saving rescues.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled that Susan and Roger Turner suffered an accident in coastal waters on July 4, 2007, and it wasn’t because of Coast Guard negligence. The court ruled that federal law authorizes but does not impose a duty for the Coast Guard to launch rescue efforts.
“Because the USCG has no duty to rescue, the law imposes no standard of care until an attempted rescue commences,” U.S. District Judge John Gibney wrote for the three-judge panel.
The court said bad weather kicked up after Susan and Roger Turner left a friend’s holiday party in their 20-foot-long motorboat, heaving them overboard. Neither wore a life jacket.
Roger Turner’s father reported the couple overdue after midnight. The Coast Guard didn’t launch a search boat until about eight hours later because rescue crews were busy on other missions, the Turners were well-equipped, experienced boaters and strong swimmers, and their four likely destinations near Mann’s Harbor were widely separated, the court said.
A friend found the Turners’ beached boat about the time the Coast Guard started searching. Susan Turner survived by clinging to crab pot buoys for nearly 12 hours and came ashore about the same time. Her husband’s body washed ashore two days later.
“We find that the USCG did not violate the relevant standard of care in any action taken or decision made,” the court said.