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Parents file wrongful-death lawsuit in 2015 disappearance of teens at sea

Cohen family lawsuit blames parents of son's best friend for ill-fated voyage

Pamela Cohen and Nicholas Korniloff stand outside the Palm Beach County courthouse as their attorney announces that a wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed against the family of Austin Stephanos.
Pamela Cohen and Nicholas Korniloff stand outside the Palm Beach County courthouse as their attorney announces that a wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed against the family of Austin Stephanos.


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The mother and stepfather of one of two South Florida teenagers who disappeared at sea during a fishing trip in 2015 are suing the family of their son's best friend.

Pamela Cohen and husband Nicholas Korniloff joined attorney Guy Rubin outside the Palm Beach County courthouse Friday morning in West Palm Beach as they announced the filing of a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The couple are the mother and stepfather of Perry Cohen, who disappeared with friend Austin Stephanos in July 2015.

Rubin said the lawsuit was filed "against those who contributed to the disappearance and presumed death" of Perry.

Because the state attorney's office declined to pursue a criminal case, civil action against Austin's parents is the Cohen family's only recourse, Rubin said.

A federal judge last week lifted an injunction that kept the couple from suing Austin's parents, Carly Black and Blu Stephanos, in state court.

Nicholas Korniloff and Pamela Cohen hold hands as they walk outside the Palm Beach County courthouse for the announcement of a wrongful-death lawsuit against the parents of their son's best friend, Austin Stephanos.
Nicholas Korniloff and Pamela Cohen hold hands as they walk outside the Palm Beach County courthouse for the announcement of a wrongful-death lawsuit against the parents of their son's best friend, Austin Stephanos.

The families of the missing 14-year-old boys have battled in court since December over a maritime law that limited the amount of damages the couple could collect from the value of the boat.

Rubin said the lawsuit takes aim at Black and Stephanos, who knew that their son planned to take Perry fishing offshore without his parents' permission. The lawsuit claims they allowed Austin to take Perry offshore the day before their fateful journey, and that Austin's grandfather gave the boys gas money to take their trip, even though the boat was not equipped for such a voyage.

The lawsuit also alleges that Black became concerned when the boys hadn't returned home to Jupiter as expected, but she never alerted authorities and waited hours before telling Pamela Cohen.

A June report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded that Black showed an "egregious lack of judgment and failure to execute due care" that contributed to the boys' disappearance.

Pamela Cohen wipes away a tear during a news conference announcing the filing of a wrongful-death lawsuit against the parents of Austin Stephanos.
Pamela Cohen wipes away a tear during a news conference announcing the filing of a wrongful-death lawsuit against the parents of Austin Stephanos.

Rubin also blamed Stephanos for refusing to provide complete cellphone records to investigators, forcing them to obtain subpoenas, and chastised Black for suing Pamela Cohen in federal court, "an aggressive and hostile act against the person whose trust was betrayed."

"Responsible parents would have never allowed" a 14-year-old to go into the ocean on a small boat without a radio, compass or travel plan, Rubin said.

He said the Cohen family intend to donate any money awarded in a judgment to charity.


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