A judge ruled Monday that Nathan Carman “made improper and faulty repairs” to his boat that contributed to its sinking three years ago during a fishing trip with his mother, who disappeared at sea and is presumed dead.
US District Judge John J. McConnell Jr., who presided over a two-week civil bench trial in federal court in Rhode Island, found that Carman wasn’t entitled to collect $85,000 from two insurers because his alterations caused the 31-foot Chicken Pox to become unseaworthy and “directly or indirectly” caused it to sink.
Carman, 25, who lives in Vermont, has been at the center of separate investigations into the 2013 murder of his grandfather and the death of his mother. Lawyers for the insurers alleged in court filings that Carman sabotaged the boat to kill his mother and had previously killed his grandfather in a scheme to collect a multimillion-dollar inheritance.
John Chakalos, an 87-year-old real estate developer who was shot to death in his Connecticut home, left a $44 million estate to his four daughters, including Carman’s mother, Linda.
But McConnell denied the insurers’ request to present evidence related to Chakalos’s slaying, focusing the trial on whether his alterations to the boat voided his insurance coverage. On Monday, McConnell noted that his ruling made “no determination of whether Mr. Carman intended to sink his boat or to harm his mother.”
In an e-mail to the Globe, Carman said, “I want to be absolutely clear that I never took any action which I knew or believed would cause harm to anyone.”
“If I have one regret, it is that, having been raised publicly, the allegations of intent made in this case were not part of the trial, and thus I was not afforded an opportunity to take them head on to clear my name once and for all with a trial on those issues.”
Police identified Carman in court filings as a suspect in his grandfather’s killing, but he has not been criminally charged in either the death of his grandfather or the disappearance of his mother.
In his e-mail, Carman also said the insurers prevailed because they were willing to “spend more than the value of this case on hired gun experts to support a false position.”
“I simply didn’t have the resources to pay for an expert to rebut each of theirs,” he said. “Regrettably, this is an instance where unlimited resources won out over the truth.”
A lawyer for the insurers, David J. Farrell Jr., said, “We are very pleased by the court’s decision.”
National Liability & Fire Insurance Co. and the Boat Owners Association of the United States had sued Carman after he filed an $85,000 claim for the loss of his boat.
In September 2016, Carman and his mother left Ram Point Marina in Point Judith, R.I., for an overnight fishing trip. A week later, he was rescued from a life raft by a passing freighter about 115 miles off Martha’s Vineyard. Despite a massive Coast Guard search, neither the boat nor Linda Carman’s remains were recovered.
In testimony at trial, Carman said he and his mother were trolling for fish about 100 miles offshore in an area off Long Island known as Block Canyon when the boat began taking on water and sank suddenly. He said he yelled for his mother but didn’t see or hear her.
Carman acknowledged that he removed trim tabs from the rear of the boat hours before he and his mother set out from Port Judith because he thought they were causing the vessel to drag. He said the removal left four holes, each about the size of a silver dollar, which he filled with putty. He also testified that he had previously removed bulkheads from the boat to create more storage space for fishing rods.
In his ruling, McConnell wrote that evidence showed that Carman’s boat was unseaworthy when he left the marina “because he improperly repaired the holes he created by removing the trim tabs, and he compromised the boat’s stability by removing the bulkheads.”
“The unseaworthy state of the boat brought about by the faulty repairs, at least indirectly caused it to sink,” he wrote.
The judge said Carman bought a package of Epoxy Putty Stick and a Fiberglass Boat Repair Kit to repair the holes but failed to follow the instructions.
McConnell noted that marine surveyor Jonathan Klopman testified that “there was no sound or practical reason for Mr. Carman to cut away the bulkheads and their removal increased the risk that the boat would come into safety troubles.”
Two witnesses also challenged Carman’s claim that his boat sank in Block Canyon and he drifted in a life raft for a week. One specialist said Carman would have been “profoundly hypothermic if not dead” after a week in the raft, yet he showed no such symptoms when he was rescued.
In a separate action, Linda Carman’s sisters are appealing a New Hampshire judge’s ruling dismissing a lawsuit they filed to bar Carman from collecting any funds from Chakalos’s estate. Court officials in New Hampshire said Monday that the sisters’ appellate brief must be filed with the state Supreme Court by Dec. 16. Carman must respond by Jan. 30.Shelley Murphy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.