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Boat crash suits await liability decision

Three civil lawsuits filed against a Douglas Manor teenager and his father over a fatal boating accident last summer have been put on hold pending a federal court decision on a limit of liability in the case.

Bellerose resident Marisa Rodgers filed a lawsuit in October that now seeks $14 million for physical and emotional damages against Robert Arnold, who was 18 at the time of the accident in Little Neck Bay that killed Rodgers' husband, John Kondogianis, 36, and Arnold's friend, George Lawrence, 17.

Elmont, L.I. resident Kondogianis and Lawrence, of Little Neck, were both thrown overboard when Arnold's 18-foot Sea Ray collided with a 19-foot Bayliner operated by Kondogianis. Rodgers, who was riding in the boat with her estranged husband, was severely injured in the July 11 accident.

Lawrence was riding in Arnold's boat along with four other teens, including Kevin Burke of Little Neck. Burke, along with Lawrence's family and Rodgers, has filed suit against Arnold and his father, Craig, owner of the boat. Burke suffered severe head injuries in the incident, the TimesLedger Newspapers reported last year.

Rodgers contends Robert Arnold piloted the craft recklessly July 11, her attorney said.

Burke's suit seeks $1 million and also names the Kondogianis estate, while the Lawrence family is asking for $5 million, said an assistant to Joseph Giaimo, one of the Arnolds' attorneys.

The lawsuits against the Arnolds have been put on hold while a Brooklyn federal court decides whether the federal Shipowners' Limitation of Liability Act, which may cap the damages at the monetary value of the defendants' boat, can be applied in the case, as an attorney for the Arnolds has requested.

Eric Gottfried, Rodgers' lawyer, said the motion on the federal law was filed "despite the fact that Robert killed two people and destroyed the life of my client and deprived my other client of a father." Rodgers' son Nicholas is also named as a plaintiff.

Gottfried, who characterized the value of the Arnolds' boat as less than $10,000, said, "That's an unfair attempt on their part."

But the Arnolds' attorney countered: "For him to say anything is unfair is beyond me. His client caused the accident."

Attorneys for Burke, the Lawrence family and Kondogianis' estate could not be reached as of press time Tuesday.

In her suit, Rodgers has accused Arnold of being "under the influence of alcohol and/or other intoxicants" while operating his craft. The Arnolds' lawyer, Giaimo, maintained Monday that Kondogianis was "drunk as a skunk" at the time of the accident.

Robert Arnold was accused and then cleared by the Queens district attorney's office of boating while intoxicated when blood tests revealed his blood alcohol level was at .01, a fraction of the legal limit.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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