The Mary E, a schooner built in Bath in 1906, lays on its side as crews work to stabilize the vessel and get all the passengers off safely. Photo courtesy of Paul Kalkstein

The Maine Maritime Museum responded to a lawsuit filed by a passenger who was aboard the museum’s Mary E schooner when it capsized in July. The Museum is rejecting the passenger’s claims that the museum is at fault for the incident and the passenger’s injuries.

According to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Tuesday, the Maine Maritime Museum stated any injuries the passenger, Karen Baldwin, sustained when the schooner tipped over in the Kennebec River “were due in whole or in part to (Baldwin’s) own negligence and not any breach of care on the part of” Maine Maritime Museum.

The museum argued Baldwin’s alleged injuries resulted from a pre-existing condition as well as circumstances of a situation out of the museum’s control, making the museum not legally responsible.

The museum also refuted Baldwin’s multiple claims that the crew was poorly trained, failed to follow standard safety procedures, sailed through inclement weather, handled the vessel in a way that caused the capsize, and did not avoid or warn passengers of dangerous conditions.

The museum states Baldwin’s suit should be dismissed because she “provided an insufficient factual basis to support a cause of action for gross negligence.”

“(Baldwin’s) pleading as to liability for gross negligence is so vague or ambiguous that the (Maine Maritime Museum) cannot reasonably prepare a response,” the court document reads.

Baldwin also claimed passengers were given a safety briefing, which included where to find and how to put on life jackets, prior to leaving the museum, which the museum confirmed. The museum, however, denied Baldwin’s claim that passengers were not required to wear life jackets during the cruise.

On July 30, the Mary E capsized while on a cruise with 15 passengers and three crew members on board. The 73-foot vessel capsized around 5:30 p.m. near Doubling Point Lighthouse in Arrowsic, according to Bath Chief of Police Andrew Booth.

The schooner was scheduled for a river cruise from 4-6:30 p.m. that would take passengers past Bath Iron Works, Doubling Point Lighthouse and the Kennebec Range Lights, according to the museum’s website.

All passengers were rescued by security personnel from the nearby Bath Iron Works shipyard, Sea Tow and Bath police. Two people were taken to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, Coast Guard Lt. James McDonough said.

During the incident, Baldwin’s claimed she was struck in the head when the vessel tipped sideways, causing her to fall into the water with the other passengers. According to Joseph Orlando Jr., one of Baldwin’s attorneys, she was taken to the hospital because she sustained a “severe head injury” that she’s still receiving treatment for. Orlando declined to provide further details of the injury.

“While the matter is still under investigation by the authorities and by my office, the facts of this case speak for themselves,” Orlando said in response to the museum’s arguments. “I understand that the museum seeks to preserve its rights in its pleadings, but it is unfathomable to me that the defense could deny negligence when a sunset lighthouse tour resulted in the vessel capsizing, causing severe injury to my client.”

Baldwin’s lawsuit came about two months after the museum filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Portland in an effort to avoid any potential liability in connection to the incident. In the complaint, the museum argues it is not responsible for any “loss, damage, injury and destruction” sustained during the capsize because it “used due diligence to make the subject vessel seaworthy and safe” before and during the July 30 cruise.

In the filing, the museum states the historic schooner “sustained a knock-down,” meaning the vessel tipped sideways to the point where its masts were at or below the water.

The Coast Guard, responsible for investigating the cause of the capsize, didn’t immediately return requests for comment Wednesday.

In Baldwin’s suit, she disputes the museum’s complaint stating the museum is “in whole or in part, individually, jointly and/or severally, caused or contributed to causing the casualty of the vessel and other losses, damages, etc., including the personal injuries to Karen Baldwin by its own negligence,” and “is liable and not entitled to exoneration nor limitation as a result of inadequate maintenance and repair procedures, as well as an improperly trained and equipped crew.”

Orlando also declined to specify what Baldwin is seeking for compensation, but will “likely be more than the (museum’s) insurance policy has available.”

“The question of how much we will demand remains open because my client is still receiving medical treatment, so it would be premature to say,” Orlando said.

Orlando said he believes the Mary E is “wildly underinsured” and may not be enough to compensate Baldwin, let alone other passengers who may file similar claims.

The Mary E has a $150,000 post-incident value, according to the museum’s complaint.

In the museum’s response to Baldwin’s claims, the organization asked the courts to dismiss Baldwin’s lawsuit and award the museum “entitlement to exoneration from or limitation of liability, along with such other and further relief as requested in the Complaint for Limitation, along with an award of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

The museum’s attorney, William Welte, did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

The Mary E was built by Thomas Hagan in 1906 at a Houghton shipyard, where Bath Iron Works now stands. For 38 years the two-masted schooner operated as a fishing and trade vessel before it was sold in 1944 to become a dragger. The ship was abandoned in 1960 and sank three years later in Lynn Harbor, Massachusetts, after a hurricane.

In 1965, William Donnell of Bath bought the schooner for $200 after seeing an advertisement in a commercial fishing magazine. Donnell brought the vessel home for restoration where it was used as a passenger schooner in the Maine Windjammer Fleet before being sold to the Maine Maritime Museum in 2017 for $140,000.

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