Marina fire wrongful death lawsuit filed against Jackson County, 15 other defendants

Deadly boat fire at Jackson County Marina on January 27, 2020.
Deadly boat fire at Jackson County Marina on January 27, 2020.(waff)
Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 12:09 PM CDT
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SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WAFF) - It has been 16 months since a fire at the Jackson County Marina killed eight people.

On Tuesday, a wrongful death lawsuit related to the fire was filed involving nine plaintiffs and 16 named defendants. The suit includes counts of wrongful death, negligence, wantonness and a breach of the Uniform & Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. The defendant list includes the City of Scottsboro, Jackson County, a number of Jackson County Commissioners at the time of the fire and 13 other parties.

Only two of the fatal victims of the fire are included as plaintiffs in the May 25 lawsuit. The estates of Amanda Nicole Foster and Yancy Tyler Roper were the first two plaintiffs in the suit.

Plaintiffs in the case are seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees from the listed defendants in the case. Plaintiffs are further seeking pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest, the expenses and costs associated with prosecuting the lawsuit and any further relief deemed appropriate by a jury or the Jackson County Circuit Court.

Attorney Kenneth Cole is one of the attorney’s representing the families.

“Cause lawsuits like this call people to account and hold individuals and companies and government entities accountable for their conduct then you can begin to see safety programs and that’s the main goal,” said Cole.

Prior to the fire, the dock was heavily damaged in a 2009 storm.

The lawsuit alleges new construction did not meet proper electrical standards and that a contractor hired to inspect the dock failed to notice the problems.

Cole claims the county commission has not provided documents proving all safety procedures were followed.

“That’s part of that adversarial process that candidly is distasteful to us because we want them to understand that we want to know what happened and we want to establish a viable safety program in the future. That will make sure that this doesn’t happen to any other families,” said Cole.

Cole said right now, all defendants are in the process of being served and will have 30 days to respond before discovery begins.

WAFF 48 reached out to the commission and city leaders for a response. We will update this report when we hear back on-air and online.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include:

  • Estate of Amanda Nicole Foster
  • Estate of Yancy Tyler Roper
  • John Sanderson of Claremont, New Hampshire
  • Alvin Brown of Jackson County
  • Elford Burns of DeKalb County
  • Harrel Burns of DeKalb County
  • Bryan McGaha of Jackson County
  • Tim Parker of Lincoln County, TN
  • Wayne Waldrop of Jackson County

The named defendants include:

  • Jackson County
  • Jackson County Commission
  • Tim Guffey - Jackson County Commission member at time of the fire
  • Danny Rich - Jackson County Commission member at time of the fire
  • Jason Venable - Jackson County Commission member at time of the fire
  • Melinda Gilbert - Jackson County Commission member at time of the fire
  • Mike Sisk - Jackson County Commission member at time of the fire
  • Association of County Commissioners of Alabama Liability Self-Insurance Fund
  • City of Scottsboro
  • Ladd Environmental Consultants
  • K.W. Raines Associates
  • Gregory W. Miller, Sr. of Miller Electric
  • Womack Electric, LLC
  • Whisenant Construction, LLC
  • CHJ Construction Co.

The lawsuit also includes unnamed defendants only listed as “Fictitious Defendants A-Z.”

According to the court filing, the lawsuit involves “the unnecessary deaths, injuries to, and property losses of many people, including the named Plaintiffs herein. These deaths, injuries, and property losses were the proximate result of the negligent and/or wanton conduct of the various Defendants listed in the preceding paragraphs and the style of this lawsuit.”

The filing goes on to say “it is believed Dock B was supposed to be built, rebuilt, wired, rewired, maintained, and operated in accordance and compliance with the safety-related rules, regulations, and guidelines of the TVA, the International Fire Code, the National Fire Protection Association including NFPA 303, the National Water Safety Congress, and/or the National Electric Code.”

The following counts were issued in detail within the court filing.

  • Negligence - Defendants owed a duty to Plaintiffs not to create, cause, and/or allow unreasonably dangerous conditions to exist at Jackson County State Park, including duties to inspect for, identify, eliminate, maintain, repair, guard against, and warn about such hazards - Page 15
  • Wantonness - Defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to provide and maintain reasonably safe premises for use by those persons lawfully on the premises - Page 16
  • Combining/Concurring Negligence/Wantonness - Plaintiffs allege that the acts of Defendants, named and unnamed, combined and concurred to cause Plaintiffs’ injuries, property damage, and wrongful death and Defendants are liable for same as a proximate result of their conduct. Plaintiffs demand judgment against the Defendants, separately and severally, for combining and concurring negligence and/or wantonness. Plaintiffs demand judgment against Defendants for such compensatory and punitive damages as the jury deems just under the circumstances - Page 17/18
  • Wrongful Death - This cause of action is asserted pursuant to Section 6-5-410 of the Alabama Code for the wrongful deaths of Amanda Nicole Foster and Yancy Farrell Roper. As a direct and proximate result of the negligent and wanton actions and/or inactions of Defendants, Amanda Nicole Foster and Yancy Farrell Roper suffered loss of life - Page 18
  • Breach of the Uniform and Residential Landlord-Tenant Act - Plaintiffs allege that there was a residential landlord-tenant relationship between Defendant Jackson County and/or the Commissioner Defendants and people who lived on their boats which were berthed in slips at Dock B. Plaintiffs herein, to include decedents Amanda Nicole Foster and Yancy Farrell Roper, were beneficiaries and/or intended beneficiaries of the duties owed by Jackson County and/or the Commissioner Defendants in their capacity as landlords to those persons who lived on their boats - Page 18/19
  • Fictitious Parties - Plaintiffs are unaware of the true names and identities of said Defendants and Defendants will be added by amendment when ascertained. Plaintiffs demand judgment against all fictitious party Defendants. Plaintiffs pray for such other and further relief as to the Court seems proper and just - Page 21

Watch WAFF’s Stefante Randall live report at 5 p.m. for more information.

Read WAFF’s January 27, 2021 story on the one year anniversary of the fire below:

It was a devastating start to the day. On January 27, 2020, a tragedy affected an entire community.

A deadly fire ravaged the Jackson County Boat Marina, leaving eight people dead. Seven people were rescued and taken to the hospital for injuries.

Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus said he will never forget that day.

“When I come to work in the morning, I come across the causeway there on 35 and I remember that morning a year ago coming across and you can see the devastation already. And I look over there occasionally coming into work and I did this morning,” said Necklaus.

Investigators later determined the fire accidental, but that limited safety practices at the marina the dock contributed to the fire.

First responders have since updated protocols and purchased lifesaving equipment including a fireboat that will better help during emergencies and cover several thousand acres of lake.

“We’ve got everybody trained on that so that we can operate, and we are still going to work on that a soon as we get better weather to get out there to do it. But we do have that operational which is leaps and bounds from where we were equipment-wise,” said Necklaus.

“Thermal imaging equipment, communications equipment for places in Jackson County that do not exist, and we’ve been looking at satellite alternatives for things like that and we’ve been fortunate enough to receive some grant money, so we can purchase those items,” Jackson County Emergency Management Director Paul Smith.

Nicklaus said, although the fire was a heartbreaking tragedy for everyone impacted, the emotional toll brought first responders together.

“I’ve seen a bond grow in our people, a comradery, a lean on me type of situation for a lack of a better word. But I’m real proud of the way these guys here have looked out for each other as best as they could,” said Necklaus.

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