“Deadliest Catch” Crabber Sues Time Bandit Over Firework Injuries

April 18, 2024
8 mins read

Adrenaline, rivalries and many tragedies are part of the high sea adventures which “Deadliest Catch” has brought to our TV screens for over a decade, and are the reason the show is still avidly watched by audiences all over the world. However, sometimes not even the on-screen drama can compare to some of the unfortunate events which take place to the show’s crews when cameras are off.

The latter rings very true when it comes to the Time Bandit, as the many legal issues have certainly taken a toll on the ship and the Hillstrand brothers.

So is it true that they were sued by a former crew, and what other legal issues have the Hillstrands had? Keep with us to know all about the lawsuits faced by the Time Bandit and other ships in the show!

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Why Were They Sued?

While the drama on board the ships might be the main attraction “Deadliest Catch”, there’s no forgetting how dangerous and enduring the profession of commercial fishing is. That being said, while most of the life-threatening situations are related to exhaustion, harsh weather conditions and illnesses, the accident which led to a long and hard legal battle between the Hillstrand brothers and a crabber was completely different from those.

It all happened in early 2013, when the Time Bandit’s then-Captain Andy Hillstrand ordered deckhand David “Beaver” Zielinski to launch fireworks aimed at the vessel known as Cape Caution, commanded at the time by fellow “Deadliest Catch” star Bill Wichrowski.


According to reports, the fireworks belonged to the Hillstrands’ brand OC Fireworks and were meant to celebrate a play-off game of Andy’s favorite American Football team the Seattle Seahawks. However, things took an horrific turn when the device exploded before time, severely injuring Zielinski’s right hand and forearm as the detonation apparently shattered his forelimb’s bones. Zielinski was taken to a clinic in Alaska, and then underwent surgery in Seattle; the accident cut short his decades-long career as a fisherman, leading him to file a lawsuit against New Era Alaska Inc. and the Time Bandit, both companies owned by the Hillstrands.

What Happened To The Case?

Some of the most relevant points presented in the lawsuit filed against the Time Bandit were related to Andy Hillstrand’s apparent negligent attitude around the incident which maimed David Zielinski’s hand. As admitted by Captain Andy, he was preoccupied watching a football game when the unfortunate incident occurred, which led to Zielinski’s lawyers to assert his negligence ‘was a gross dereliction of duty’.

As well, Johnathan Hillstrand admitted in court that he’d suggested Zielinski claim his injuries were caused by a fishing-related accident instead of a fireworks explosion: ‘I thought that by stating that Dave was injured in traditional fishing activities we could make it more likely that our insurance would cover Dave’s injury’, though he also affirmed his brother Andy had talked him out of that idea.

While Zielinski’s lawsuit was filed under the argument that the accident had led to financial struggles, due to his inability to work properly, the Hillstrands’ lawyers claimed that the plaintiff’s recovery was successful enough to land him a $50 per hour contract in the metal working industry. Nonetheless, in 2017 a Seattle jury determined that Zielinski was owed $2.7 million in compensation, half of what he initially asked.

Was The Firework Company Closed?

Although the Hillstrand brothers’ company New Era Alaska was ordered to compensate former Time Bandit’s deckhand David Zielinski, that apparently wasn’t a big hit for their brand. As seen on the website of the Indiana State-based business, OC Fireworks is still distributing all types of pyrotechnics around the US, taking pride in their ability to have in store some of ‘the hottest and most recognized brands at the lowest prices possible’.

While it’s not far-fetched to think Zielinski’s legal battle against their company had some temporary negative effects on their company and reputation, the fireworks industry has evidently proven to be quite a profitable side business for the Hillstrands.


Were The Hillstrands Sued By Discovery?

Regardless of how tough the lawsuit faced by the Hillstrands was, that wasn’t the first time the Time Bandit’s Co-Captains were involved in legal issues since debuting in the show. Actually, the brothers were sued a couple of years prior by Discovery Communications, for allegedly not fulfilling their contract obligations with the network.

It all goes back to mid-2010, when the brothers filmed the first part of a “Deadliest Catch” spin-off entitled “Hillstranded”. However, as the time set for the second filming period approached, communications between the brothers and Discovery’s producers became increasingly difficult, to the point that the network sued the Hillstrands in September that year for not completing the show’s filming, allegedly causing millions in loss to Discovery.

As the relationship with the network became muddy, the Hillstrand brothers quit “Deadliest Catch”, and claimed the $3 million lawsuit filed against them was as “Deadliest Catch” captains, and yet this is the figure Discovery is trying to extort from these men’, as the brothers’ lawyer Jeff Cohen affirmed.

Although fellow Captain Sig Hansen also resigned from the show in solidarity with the Time Bandit’s Captains, the three skippers eventually re-joined the show after the case was settled out of court in October that year, with undisclosed terms.

What Happened To “Hillstranded”?

Following the settlement between Discovery and the Hillstrand brothers, things looked brighter for both sides. According to Variety, the brothers were more than happy to return to the show, and finish filming of their spin-off after the lawsuit was settled: ‘Everyone worked really hard on putting together “Hillstranded”, and we’re looking forward to wrapping that up. It’s something new that we hope people will enjoy’, they affirmed in an interview with the magazine.

With their relationship with the network back in place, and a seventh “Deadliest Catch” season ahead, the brothers finished filming their spin-off soon afterwards. The TV special premiered in April 2011 under the title “Alaskan Monster Hunt: Hillstranded”, focused on the brothers’ efforts to discover what’s behind some of the most famous and intriguing monster legends of the Alaskan seas. Though the Hillstrands’ mission to catch a mythical creature roaming underwater was a far cry from the usual “Deadliest Catch” storylines, the audience was pleased to see two of their favorite skippers back on screen.

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The Donation Hoax

Aside from the legal issues faced by the Hillstrands, they were also involved in an unusual and unfortunate event in 2012.

As it happened, in 2009, a teenager named Thomas Doty was diagnosed with bone cancer known as osteosarcomas, the expensive treatment of which took a toll on his family. Captain Johnathan Hillstrand, a friend of Thomas’ family and neighbor, spread the word about the young man’s case on social media, to collect funds for his $250,000 medical bills, and so help the bankrupted family. Soon afterwards, a woman who introduced herself as Jonnica Ellis contacted the Doty family, and promised to pay for the bills before disappearing completely after a month. Thomas eventually received the necessary treatment but unfortunately died in December 2012.

While the woman’s identity was most-likely fake, she was apparently using Thomas’ case to get closer to her favorite “Deadliest Catch” skipper. According to Hillstrand, a couple of months prior to falsely promising the money for Thomas’ treatment, Ellis contacted the Captain through Twitter several times, affirming her love for him, though she also failed to meet him in person.

That series of unfortunate events left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths, as they considered Ellis had taken advantage of the family’s situation: ‘I hate the Internet, and I pretty much hate people because of this’, as affirmed by Captain Hillstrand.

Who Died From The Time Bandit?

Following the line of unfortunate events related to the Time Bandit, it’s impossible to forget one huge loss faced by the vessel’s crew. As many loyal “Deadliest Catch” viewers might remember, Justin Tennison was a recurring star in the show who also appeared in spin-offs such as “After The Catch” and “Inside The Catch”. Though he was a dedicated deckhand, Justin spent time off crabbing season with his family and career as an engineer on mainland.

Unfortunately, the 33-year-old family father passed away on 22 February 2011 while in a Homer’s Inn named Best Western Bidarka, in Alaska State. According to police reports, officials arrived at the place after receiving a call from the inn’s staff, and found Justin unresponsive in his room. As it was suspected that a party took place in Justin’s room the night before his death due to the traces of marijuana and alcohol bottles found in it, the autopsy ultimately revealed complications of sleep apnea actually caused Justin’s passing.

In a heartfelt statement posted on the ship’s website, the Time Bandit’s crew sent condolences to his family, and described Justin as ‘tough as a bull and was an all-around good hand’. Justin was cremated, and his ashes were scattered on the Alaskan sea.


Was The Time Bandit Sold?

The Time Bandit wasn’t sold, but was close to it leaving the ownership of the Hillstrands’ brothers forever. As loyal “Deadliest Catch” fans remember, one of the biggest surprises brought up by the show’s 13th season finale was the then-upcoming retirement of Captain Johnathan Hillstrand.

While many thought the Time Bandit was near its end, fans were surprised to see Johnathan and the whole ship crew back on the Bering Sea a couple of months after the announcement. However, the ship wasn’t in the next “Deadliest Catch” season premiered in 2018, and more bad news followed later that year, when Captain Johnathan announced on social media that Time Bandit’s engine exploded for no apparent reason, marking his first time in 38 years to lose a crab fishing season, immediately turning off fans’ hopes of seeing the ship back on screen for a 15th season.

Although the Time Bandit was in the midst of repairs in October that year, a couple of months later TMZ reported that the ship was up for sale online, for $2,888,888. The price was apparently lowered a couple of times before the vessel was taken off the site for good, but updated information about the boat was scarce at the time.


What Happened To The Hillstrands’ Boat?

Given how popular and well-liked the Hillstrands are by “Deadliest Catch” audience, it wasn’t surprising that a long debate regarding the Time Bandit’s fate ensued on social media. While some theorized that Neil Hillstrand’s on-going divorce might have influenced his brothers to sell the boat to cover court expenses, others speculated that the reason behind the sale was prompted by the family’s inability to cover the Time Bandit’s then-recent mechanical issues.

Nonetheless, the 16th season of “Deadliest Catch” wildly surprised the audience with the return of Johnathan Hillstrand, who was co-Captaining the Saga along with fan favorite Jake Anderson. While the Time Bandit was nowhere in sight, the hopes of seeing the whole Hillstrand clan back again on TV was prompted by the news that the Time Bandit was still owned by the family. Later in the 17th season, the boat made its long-awaited return to the show, with a seemingly renovated engine and some evident fixings to its exteriors.



Johnathan’s Retirement

Although it’s fortunate that the Time Bandit is nowadays active, there are still many questions regarding the reason why Johnathan Hillstrand went back on his word about retiring. The explanation is directly related to one good friend of the Hillstrands. According to an interview with Northwestern’s Captain Sig Hansen, he was the one to convince Johnathan to give fishing another chance when things were looking grim in the industry.


Apparently, Johnathan’s reticence in continuing in the crabbing business was prompted by the increasing difficulties in the industry, which were especially evident during the Coronavirus spread in 2020. In the end, Captain Hansen developed fishing strategies with other Captains, and kept Johnathan in the game at the same time: ‘We were in the dark, and then we had to rely on each other, you know, which was a really different situation’, Hansen said to Fox News, admitting that collaborating brought him back memories of ‘the good old days’.

While it’s great to know Hansen’s advice kept Johnathan in the business, the apparent constant changes and difficulties faced by the Captains in the Bering Sea are concerning to say the least. However, how much this situation will affect the industry and “Deadliest Catch” is yet to be seen.

Martha Clifford

As an Author at Net Worth Post, I guide a dedicated team in the art of revealing the stories behind the world's most influential personalities. Fueled by a relentless curiosity and a knack for uncovering hidden stories, I immerse myself in the intricacies of our subjects' lives, weaving together accurate data and compelling narratives. My involvement spans the entire editorial process, from the seed of research to the final flourish of publication, ensuring that every article not only educates but also captivates and motivates our audience.

At Net Worth Post, we are committed to providing thorough investigations into the net worth and life achievements of innovators across diverse sectors such as technology, culture, and social entrepreneurship. My method merges meticulous research with eloquent storytelling, designed to bridge the gap between our readers and the remarkable individuals who redefine our tomorrow. Through spotlighting their journeys to success, the hurdles they've surmounted, and their contributions to society, we aim to give our readers a deep and inspiring insight into the luminaries who are paving the way for progress and ingenuity in the modern era.

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