A Lake Conroe tour boat operator whose double-decker vessel capsized last month did not have proper insurance coverage, according to the attorney for the family of a passenger who died.
After the Lake Conroe Queen tipped over Aug. 14 following a windstorm, Karl Katzenberger, 80, of Montgomery, died of reported cardiac issues at a hospital. He and 52 other passengers, including his wife, Jean, 77, were stranded in the water. Several other passengers who sustained injuries already filed a lawsuit against Dale Shaver, the boat’s owner and operator.
A letter from Shaver’s insurance company explains the policy on the Lake Conroe Queen does not cover bodily injuries incurred during business operations. The letter, sent to Shaver’s attorney, was shared with the Houston Chronicle by Jean Katzenberger’s attorney, Mark Murray.
“What it means is if you don’t have the right policy, we don’t have the obligation to indemnify you and so you’re exposed for these problems,” Murray said about the five-page letter dated Aug. 26.
However, Murray said the couple of nearly six decades were running late for the 90-minute, $16 sunset cruise and were instructed by crew members to board without paying or signing a disclaimer. The Katzenbergers did sign a manifest, he pointed out.
The Houston-based attorney is looking to see if those factors will exempt Jean Katzenberger from prohibitive insurance rules.
Murray said it appears Shaver switched policies from commercial-use liability to personal use when he moved from Louisiana to Texas to operate the Lake Conroe Queen.
Shaver’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Billed as a paddle boat and styled after 1860s riverboats, the 35-year-old vessel began tours on Lake Conroe in June.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department requires commercial boats have a minimum $300,000 liability insurance, said Cody Jones, a commander with the agency, in an Aug. 24 interview.
The San Jacinto River Authority requires businesses on Lake Conroe’s waters to hold liability insurance to compensate those with injuries or other damages, its general manager, Jace Houston, said in an Aug. 24 interview.
“We tell companies you can’t come here and do business if you’re not gonna protect the public by carrying insurance,” Houston said.
Jean Katzenberger’s claims in a potential lawsuit would include injuries for being doused in diesel from the wrecked boat and for witnessing her husband die, Murray noted. He said the widow also represents her husband’s estate, meaning she could potentially be owed for injuries sustained by Karl Katzenberger, including his pain, suffering and mental anguish prior to his death.
“She’s been deprived of the care, comfort, solace and companionship of her life-long partner,” Murray said.
The boat was so rocky the evening of the incident, Jean Katzenberger’s plastic chair on the second deck broke before the vessel was swamped with water, Murray said. Then, Karl Katzenberger fell through the stairwell to the first deck, the lawyer added.
Jean Katzenberger managed to get off the boat but did not have enough time to properly put on her life jacket and she began to float away, seeing her husband clinging to the side before he disappeared, Murray detailed.
Murray said Karl Katzenberger’s official cause of death is pending autopsy results. Montgomery County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack said it would take 60 to 90 days for the return of Katzenberger’s autopsy results.
“All cause of death eventually gets to cardiac arrest and the question was, is that because he could not get air. … Did he inhale water?” Murray said. “I don’t know if the event was so traumatic that it caused him to go into shock and die.”
A few days after the Lake Conroe Queen capsized, Houston attorney Ryan MacLeod filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million on behalf of eight passengers. Personal injuries incurred by some of the plaintiffs include leaking diesel inhalation and fractured ribs, according to an Aug. 23 interview with MacLeod.
Passengers received life jackets about 15 seconds before the boat flipped and those on the top deck were never told to go to the bottom deck, according to the suit and MacLeod.
Jean Katzenberger has three children with her late husband. The two moved to Texas from St. Louis in 1985 to be close to a daughter, according to Murray.
The couple booked the reservations for the Lake Conroe Queen the night they celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary, Murray said.
Written by Jose R. Gonzalez