Dubin added that the troops were trapped inside for 45 minutes before the vehicle, known as an AAV, sank. Four Marines tried to use their body weight to force the hatch open, the lawyers said, adding that if the doors went inward and locked instead of to the outside, they could have gotten out in under two minutes. He said the lawsuit would be filed within two days in U.S. District Court in San Diego.
BAE Systems knew for a decade or more about a design defect that makes it nearly impossible for troops to open the cargo hatches and escape the 26-ton amphibious vehicles when they sink, attorney Eric Dubin said at a news conference in Oceanside, the city bordering Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, where most of the troops were based. “They were kids, and they were put in a death trap,” said Dubin, who was accompanied by relatives of five of the service members who died on July 30, 2020, and ranged from 18 to 22. The families cried as he spoke; three of the mothers embraced. Among them was Aleta Bath of East Troy, Wisconsin, who lost her only child.
She and her son would talk almost daily. Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, often forgot about the time difference between California and Wisconsin, calling her in the middle of the night. “I still don’t sleep because I’m waiting for a call that doesn’t come,” she said, crying. “I just want to make things safer so this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
Military leaders agreed the tragedy could have been prevented. An investigation by the maritime branch found the accident off San Clemente Island was caused by inadequate training, shabby maintenance of the 35-year-old amphibious assault vehicles and poor judgment by commanders. About a dozen Marine officers have been forced out of their jobs or disciplined in another way. The Marine Corps also relieved a two-star general in June who had overseen the exercise. BAE Systems declined to comment on the expected lawsuit and directed questions to the Marine Corps.
“We offer our deepest sympathies to the families impacted by this tragedy and we mourn the loss of the nine service members,” company spokesman Tim Paynter wrote in an email. Lawyers for the families said they also would have considered suing the military but were prevented by the Feres doctrine, a 1950 decision that says service members cannot sue the federal government for injuries sustained while serving. Instead, they are asking the military to support the lawsuit and pull its amphibious assault vehicles out of the water until the problem is resolved by the manufacturer. The Marine Corps did that for months while the accident was investigated, but recently troops have been back inside them in the water.
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