According to First Coast News, the legal battle between the operators of the El Faro, which sank during Hurricane Joaquin this fall, and family members of its victims is heating up.
A court imposed deadline was set in Florida for today for family members to file lawsuits. Sadly, all 33 crewmembers who were aboard the vessel are believed to have died. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and U.S. Coast Guard suspended their search for the missing data recorder from the wreckage of the vessel earlier this fall.
TOTE Maritime, the owner of the vessel, filed a counter to El Faro lawsuits for a Petition for Limitation of Liability. Family members have now begun to fight back against this petition—one attorney has filed motions to remove the limitation, which caps TOTE’s liability to family members to $15 million. This is important for family members, as they would receive about $400,000, if the $15 million were to be distributed equally, if TOTE were successful with the petition.
This is far less money than these family members should be entitled to, as many people have questioned why the ship was traveling from Florida to Puerto Rico in poor weather. It is believed that the vessel suffered a hull breach and lost propulsion.
Fighting a Petition for Limitation of Liability
In the video above, maritime attorney David Anderson discusses Petitions for Limitation of Liability.
As the El Faro legal story plays out, it displays how timing can be incredibly important in maritime law following a disaster. Family members often have short periods, sometimes only weeks from the date when a Petition for Limitation of Liability is filed, to answer one. Having experienced maritime counsel is incredibly important during this time, as a family member can greatly limit his or her ability to collect damages later by receiving poor legal advice or if they do not answer the Petition within the deadline they waive their right to file any future claim.
To fight Petitions for Limitation of Liability, family members must prove that an accident occurred because a vessel was not seaworthy and owners knew or had privity about it. Additionally, they will have to prove that the owner was negligent in contributing to the accident and the owner had privity or knowledge of the negligent condition. For this case, a claim could potentially be made that there was no reason for the boat to leave based on the forecasts.
Continue to follow our blog for more El Faro news.