Valdez v. DJ Laz / Lazero Mendez, et. al.
Ernesto’s mother (Maricel Valdez) filed a law suit / legal action against DJ Laz and other today (Friday May 9, 2014) in Miami Dade County Court and held a news conference with her attorney, Carlos Silva.
The Miami Herald posted copy of the complaint. It charges DJ Laz with negligence for operating the boat’s motors while people were trying to push the boat off a sandbar. One news clip states Ernesto Hernandez had been asked to help, other news clips were less certain if people were invited or just came over to help. The lawsuit says, “DJ Laz solicited,asked or otherwise instructed and/or enlisted the event invitees, including the decedent Ernesto Hernandez, to help him extract the boat from the sand …”
The lawsuit is officially titled,
Maricel Valdez, as a personal representative of the estate of Ernesto Hernandez v.
Lazero Mendez aka and dba DJ Laz individually;
Voli Spirits, LLC, a foreign limited liability company;
Park Streets Imports, LLC a Florida limited liability company, dba Voli Vodka;
and Plantation Boat Mart & Marina, Inc, a Florida Corporation
Another local personality, Pitbull, substantial owner of Voli Spirits is mentioned in the suit, but not specifically listed as a defendant.
The suit says Ernesto Hernandez and others attending the party held the status of business invitees (owed a standard of care by those inviting them).
Plantation Boat Mart and Voli Spirits were being promoted so those firms owed a duty of care to those invited. Plantation Boat Mart also did because they own the boat (note we later checked the records and DJ Laz owned the boat in 2013, it may have since changed hands).
The suit said there was drinking onboard, scantily clad young women, dancing, loud music, and friends of DJ Laz.
About 7 pm DJ Laz began trying to get the boat off the sandbar where it was stuck.
We are currently working on a feature post on the legal aspects of Social Media with respect to boat propeller accidents, using this case as an example. We hope to finish it in a few days, then we hope to begin creating a list of similar accidents (people struck by boat propellers while pushing stuck boats). We will provide links to those posts here as they become available.
Our Prediction of Next Step in the Case
We have not yet established exactly who owns the boat, but Plantation Boat Mart & Marina told a news reporter Plantation does not own the boat and anticipates being quickly released from the suit (lots of luck with that, everybody always wants to be quickly released). We anticipate whoever the vessel owner is will request the case be moved to Federal Court under limited liability (the Jones Act) which can limit their maximum liability to the value of the vessel and its contents.
The lawsuit is currently filed in Dade County Court.
The lawsuit says:
“There is no federal admirality jurisdiction over this matter because the conduct acts and/or omissions occurred on a then non-navigable sandbar about 100 yards from the shore off (i.e. far less than 3 miles) Key Biscayne, Florida, and there is an insufficient nexus between the facts of this case and traditional concerns of maritime law.”
While that may or may not be true, the defendants will not give up the limitation of liability defense without a fight. We see it raised over and over again on inland waters the claim are navigable in recreational boat propeller accidents.
We anticipate the limitation of liability / Jones Act defense will be raised quite soon.
It will probably be battled around quite a while and may or may not be granted, but they will not give it up without a sufficient fight.
Note – the financial limitations of liability are not available in all states, I am not certain of the situation in Florida, AND they are often not valid in cases where negligence is proven.
The current lawsuit is a civil suit. Some news reports indicate a criminal suit may also be filed.
DJ Laz case Updates
12 May – We quickly checked the Merchant Vessel Database and determined the boat’s “official” name is probably not Voli.
13 May – We posted Legal Aspects of Social Media & Boat Propeller Accidents: the DJ Laz example discussing the importance of social media in the accident and DJ Laz quickly shutting down his online presence after the accident.
15 May 2014 – We found that Lazero Mendez (DJ Laz’s real name) probably owned the boat. The USCG Merchant Vessel Database shows the 41.6 foot Hydra-Sports boat “Off the Air” that hails from Key Largo, FL had a documented owner of Lazaro L. Mendez of Plantation FL when the last documentation was issued (April 11 2013). The vessel had no previous owners and no previous vessel name changes. It is listed as being is service as a recreational boat, and was built it 2012. Gross and Net Tonnage are listed as 21 tons.
6 June 2014 – Ernesto’s mother dismissed Voli Spirits LLC from the suit with each party to pay their own fees and costs. That typically means the party, Voli Spirits LLC, settled.
17 June 2014 – Someone filed a motion to dismiss. We can see no further details on the court site.
2 July 2014 Ernesto’s mother dismissed Park Street Imports from the suit with each party to pay their own fees and costs. This typically means Park Street Imports settled.
21 August 2014 an interesting note in the court docket about “DEFT VOL VODKA LLC PRODUCE 5-16-14 EMAIL TO COURT” followed by another note of the same date, “DEFT VOLI VODKA LLC MT TO PRODUCE DOC. 08-06-14 RESERVED”. Voli Vodka is still in the case, Voli Spirits, LLC was dismissed. Sometimes interesting comments can be found in emails people did not realize would come under scruitiny.
19 August 2014 somebody filed a motion to withdraw as an attorney. Mr. Silva still shows as attorney of record on the case as of August 29, 2014, so it may an attorney for one of the remaining parties (Plantation Boat Mart & Marina Inc., Voli Vodka, LLC, Estate of Ernesto Hernandez, or DJ Laz (Lazero Mendez).
25 August 2014 DJ Laz returned to radio at Hits 97.3. His return was strongly covered by the press which also discussed the accident and he responded briefly to the accident on air and in interviews. The family of Ernesto Hernandez responded to his comments the following day.
If you can email me the report when you are done i would greatly appreciate it. This was my cousin and i really want to learn as much as possible and also try to change some laws to increase public safety.
We will drop you a note as major new materials become available. We appreciate your interest in boating safety. We have a page talking about how people can become involved in advocating for boat propeller safety. It lists many ways you could become involved.