PEABODY — A New York family has become the latest to file suit against a Peabody travel agency that specialized in college and high school spring break tours, after their son nearly lost a leg during a "booze cruise" last March.
StudentCity, which is headquartered in an Essex Center Drive office park, behind Northshore Mall, was named in a suit filed Wednesday in Salem Superior Court, along with its British parent company, Travelopia Holdings.
The suit seeks $25 million in damages on behalf of Shane Dennehy and his parents, Greg and Judith Dennehy, of Manorville, a town on Long Island, New York.
Shane, now 22, was a junior at the State University of New York in Binghamton last fall when he met a campus representative for StudentCity, who eventually persuaded Shane and his friends to plan a spring break trip to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, for the following March.
The package he and his friends purchased included a "booze cruise." The pamphlets promoting the trip noted that "on-location" StudentCity staff would be present "24/7," according to the complaint.
The materials also said all StudentCity destinations, hotels and party locations "are carefully scouted out, regularly visited by fulltime employees ... and our destination staff is present throughout all trips."
But according to the lawsuit, the "booze cruise" turned out to be on board a catamaran called "Escandaloso," which was not on the list of previously vetted and approved boats and was not inspected by anyone from the company prior to the March 20 trip.
Nor was any StudentCity employee on board for the trip, only two young men serving as bartenders and a captain, the lawsuit states. The boat was also overcrowded.
While anchored in a shallow area close to shore, Shane used a slide that went from the second level of the catamaran to the rear, ending between the two outboard motors. During his trip down the slide, Shane struck his head on the side, then landed in the water between the two engines. To steady himself, he grabbed the edge of one of the motors.
Seconds later, the captain started the engines. His left leg became entangled with the propeller. Because the music was so loud, the captain, who had failed to tell anyone that he was about to start the engine, could not hear the screams. The propeller kept moving until a student went into the wheelhouse and turned off the engines himself, according to the lawsuit.
The propeller had to be removed from the engine in order to free Shane, who was assisted by other students and bystanders, according to the lawsuit. Neither the captain nor the two bartenders provided any help. Instead, the suit alleges, they continued serving drinks and interacting with female students.
The students and bystanders lifted Shane onto the boat and applied a tourniquet, and a small private speedboat approached to help, carrying him to shore. The other students carried Shane to a taxi, which drove them to a hospital.
Shane's leg was "nearly severed," according to the lawsuit. He suffered fractures and muscle loss, which has required multiple operations to treat. He has also had to undergo treatment for infections, required several blood transfusions, and will need more surgery in the future.
The treatment also includes physical therapy.
The suit alleges that the "customer agreement" which allegedly releases the company from liability for injuries and requiring arbitration are too broad and illegal. The suit also alleges that the discharges and releases are "purposefully placed in locations in the customer agreement that are unlikely to be accessed" by consumers.
The suit seeks damages for negligent failure to provide staff and supervision, multiple counts of negligence in choosing, vetting and supervising the boat and crew, gross negligence and willful, wanton and reckless conduct by StudentCity, lost companionship by Shane's parents and violation of the Massachusetts consumer protection laws concerning travel arrangements and advertising.
Attempts to speak to the family's attorneys were unsuccessful.
On its website, the company has posted a notice saying it is no longer offering college spring break travel arrangements: "Regretfully StudentCity will no longer be operating college trips for spring break 2020."
Efforts to reach someone who could speak on behalf of StudentCity were unsuccessful and a message left with an affiliated business was not returned.
A company located at the same address, GradCity, which arranges high school vacation trips, continues offering packages to locations in Florida, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Bahamas.
StudentCity has settled several lawsuits alleging negligence in cases where students have been killed or seriously injured, court records show.
A 2009 lawsuit alleged that a South Dakota college student died while unsupervised on a StudentCity trip to Mexico when he fell from a 10th story balcony.
Earlier this year, the same firm that represents the Dennehy family settled a suit brought by the parents of two high school students from Texas, one of whom died and the other severely injured, when the catamaran they were on board for a scuba expedition crashed into a coral reef and they were left to get off the damaged boat without any assistance from the crew, some of whom deserted the boat.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.