September 10, 2021 – Los Angeles, California - - Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman and other law firms recently filed a complaint for the families of nine military service members who died last year when a “defective and dangerous” amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) took on water and sank during a training exercise off the coast of Southern California.
The lawsuit (case no. 21STCV33013) filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court is against the AAV’s manufacturer, Delaware-based BAE Systems. The military families accuse BAE of negligence, breach of warranty, and strict product liability for its “defective and unreasonably dangerous” AAV.
Baum Hedlund shareholder and military accident attorney Timothy A. Loranger, a Marine Corps veteran, represents four of the families in this lawsuit:
- Marco Barranco, the surviving father of Lance Corporal Marco A. Barranco
- Andrew A. Bath, the surviving father of Private First Class Evan A. Bath
- Peter and Lynn Ostrovsky, the surviving parents of Private First Class Jack-Ryan Ostrovsky
- Romelia Perez, the surviving mother of Lance Corporal Guillermo S. Perez
LCpl Barranco, PFC Bath, PFC Ostrovsky and LCpl Perez, served honorably with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit based out of Camp Pendleton.
According to the allegations, BAE knew its AAV was defective but did nothing to fix the issues that caused the military vehicle to sink with nine young men helplessly trapped inside.
“Marines are well-trained to manage and overcome adversity,” says attorney Timothy A. Loranger. “But this purportedly dangerous and defective AAV with its cascade of catastrophic failures put these brave young men in an impossible situation. Lawmakers recently used the term ‘death traps’ to describe AAVs in a Congressional hearing, and with good reason. It’s time for BAE to accept responsibility for its role in causing this preventable tragedy and remedy the issues raised in this lawsuit so other families don’t have to suffer the way our clients have suffered.”
The families hope this lawsuit will compel BAE to thoroughly reexamine the design of this and future AAVs to ensure that this type of tragedy never happens again.
Nine Service Members Dead in ‘Preventable’ AAV Accident
On July 30, 2020, Marine Corps AAV No. 523519 assigned to the Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was conducting a training exercise off the coast of Southern California. Three AAV crewmen, 12 Marines, and one Navy Sailor were on board the vehicle for the exercise.
At approximately 6:15 p.m. local time, the AAV sank in the Pacific Ocean while attempting to return from San Clemente Island to the U.S.S. Somerset, a Navy amphibious transport dock. The following service members drowned in the incident:
- Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18 | Corona, California
- Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21 | Montebello, California
- Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19 | Oak Creek, Wisconsin
- U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Gnem, 22 | Stockton, California
- Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20 | New Braunfels, Texas
- Pfc. Jack-Ryan Ostrovsky, 21 | Bend, Oregon
- Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23 | Harris, Texas
- Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19 | Portland, Oregon
- Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21 | Riverside, California
In May of 2021, Peter Ostrovsky spoke to lawmakers during a Congressional hearing about a conversation he’d had with his son, Jack Ryan, before the incident:
"A week before the AAV incident, Jack Ryan told me about his concerns with the AAVs, and that they sink all the time. It was hard for me to believe that statement, but now I know there was more to the story that was the basis for his concern."
At the same hearing, Assistant Commandant Gen. Gary L. Thomas said the AAV sinking was “preventable in so many ways."
What Caused the AAV Accident? Lawsuit Alleges Several Failures Made AAV Unsafe and Unreliable
The post-incident investigation concluded that the AAV became disabled in the water due to a transmission failure resulting from insufficient of transmission fluid. The vessel flooded with water at multiple locations due to degraded and ineffective seals, holes, and the failure of the engine plenum doors to close and seal properly. Attorneys say the defective transmission’s failure not only caused the vessel to lose propulsion and become disabled in the water, but it also caused the hydraulic system to become degraded, limiting the effectiveness of the hydraulic bilge pumps to expel the seawater that was pouring into the AAV.
The investigation further revealed that water was able to pour into the AAV via several leak points. Some leakage is expected when an AAV is in water, but properly functioning on-board hydraulic bilge pumps should drain that water out of the vessel.
According to the complaint, rising water entered the engine compartment due to the defective and degraded bilge pumps and caused the unprotected and vulnerable electrical generator to fail. This failure, the complaint alleges, caused the electrical bilge pumps to operate on limited battery power, also at a degraded level, further reducing the amount of water pumped out of the hold where the Marines and the Sailor were positioned.
Adding to the already terrifying situation within the AAV’s cargo bay was the alleged non-functioning Emergency Egress Lighting System, which illuminates the travel path inside the AAV to the cargo hatch door. The lawsuit alleges this failure left the cargo hold so dark, the service members could not see to unlock the cargo hatch door.
According to the complaint, BAE knew before this preventable tragedy that the sole means of escaping the AAV in an emergency was through defectively designed and manufactured narrow cargo hatch doors. Attorneys say the cargo hatch doors were so difficult to open, occupants occasionally had to beat the lock with a hammer.
Per the complaint, the cargo hatch doors had the following defects, which trapped the service members and prevented them from escaping the sinking AAV:
- A locking system that was difficult to open.
- An inoperable lighting system.
- Doors that were too difficult and heavy to open with the weight of the water.
- Doors that were too difficult to keep open or lock in an open position with the weight of the water.
- Doors that were too narrow to easily escape with bulky gear on.
Attorneys for the families say that for over 45 minutes, the servicemen were unable to open or keep open the defective cargo hatch door, resulting in nine deaths. “But for the defectively designed and manufactured cargo doors, the wrongful deaths would not have occurred,” the complaint states.
The complaint lists the following component parts of the AAV as defective:
- Compartment seals
- Plenum doors
- Hydraulic and mechanical bilge pumps
- Electrical system
- Emergency lighting
- Warning systems
- Escape systems
The lawsuit alleges BAE’s failures were a substantial factor in causing the deaths of the nine service members. According to the complaint, BAE failed in their duties to ensure the equipment they design, manufacture, assemble, inspect, maintain, test, supply, and sell to the U.S. military is seaworthy—it is not. Instead, BAE provided the military with an unreliable, unsafe, and defectively manufactured AAV, which resulted in the sinking of the vessel and the tragic loss of nine young lives.
The families filing suit today are alarmed that BAE continues to manufacture “defective” equipment for the military. At a press conference roughly a year after the AAV accident, many of the families who lost sons stood together to ask that no military AAV be allowed in water training until BAE remedies the defects alleged in the complaint.
Lance Corporal Marco A. Barranco
Lance Corporal Marco A. “Andy” Barranco of Montebello was the son of Marco Barranco and Guadalupe Garcia. He is survived by his two sisters, Catherine and Selma. He hoped to continue his service in law enforcement after completing his enlistment period. Andy’s friends and family described him as an inspirational role model and a fearless leader who understood how to love unconditionally.
Private First Class Evan A. Bath
Private First Class Evan A. Bath was raised in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The only child of Aleta and Andrew Bath, PFC Bath embraced his call to service with dignity, discipline, commitment, and courage. He and eight of his military brothers sacrificed their lives for country. His family says Evan proved a hero whose life will long inspire those who will carry his legacy forward.
Private First Class Jack-Ryan Ostrovsky
Private First Class Jack-Ryan Ostrovsky was born and raised in Bellingham, Washington to parents Peter and Lynn. PFC Ostrovsky was interested in military service from a young age. He and his twin brother, Samuel, grew up in the South Hill neighborhood and graduated from Sehome High School in 2018. PFC Ostrovsky was a patriot and he loved serving his country. He is survived by his parents and his twin brother.
Lance Corporal Guillermo S. Perez
Lance Corporal Guillermo “Willie” Sammuel Carrizales Perez was born in San Antonio, Texas to parents Romelia Escobedo and Faustino T. Perez, Jr. LCpl Perez had recently been promoted after starting his military service as a Private First Class. His family described him as a one of a kind young man who would always offer a helping hand without being asked. LCpl Perez is survived by his parents, his fiancé, Monika Mendoza, sisters Saummie Medelez, and Bobbie Medelez, brother Michael C. Perez, and members of his step family.
Timothy A. Loranger (USMC Veteran) | Military Accident Lawyer
The military accident legal team at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, led by U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Timothy A. Loranger, is honored to represent the brave men and women who serve our country in uniform. Tim served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Best Lawyers® selected Tim as the 2020 “Lawyer of the Year” for Personal Injury Litigation in Los Angeles—recognition that can only be earned by one lawyer who receives the highest overall peer feedback in one legal practice area in one metropolitan region.
Our firm has represented dozens of military families and civilians in lawsuits stemming from preventable aviation accidents and ground transportation accidents. We believe that any company that puts profit over the safety of the men and women serving in the U.S. military should be held accountable for the damage they cause. In this case and in all of the cases we take on, our purpose is not only to secure justice for our clients; it’s to fight for improved safety to prevent similar incidents from ever happening again.