According to WTLV-TV, a judge in Jacksonville has ordered family members of victims of the El Faro disaster to file lawsuits by December 21 in order to pursue claims.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger signed the court order recently preventing family members from filing lawsuits outside of the venue and outside of the deadline against Sea Star Lines, d/b/a, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and Tote Services, Inc.

The ruling was in response to TOTE’s request to limit the amount of money the company would pay out, if found liable, to $15.3 million through a Petition for Limitation of Liability. Attorneys representing victims have blasted the company for using the decades-old defense strategy.

Some politicians have also expressed frustrations with TOTE’s legal response. “The (National Transportation Safety Board) only just found the ship with the help of the U.S. Navy, and yet, somehow the company is able to definitely declare that they weren’t at fault and that they bear no responsibility for the loss,” Sen. Bill Nelson said during a Senate hearing recently.

To read the court order, you can click here.

The El Faro went missing during Hurricane Joaquin earlier this fall. It remains unclear why the vessel was operating in rough seas. All 33 crewmembers about the vessel are presumed to be dead. Wreckage from the vessel has been found, although, as of last week, officials were still trying to locate the boat’s data recorder to determine what happened.

What is the Limitation of Liability Act?

In the video above, attorney Dave Anderson talks about the Limitation of Liability Act. As this court order shows, although it may be incredibly difficult following a maritime accident, family members are often forced to act quickly if they want to pursue legal claims.

To fight the liability petition, the families who are currently filing lawsuits are going to have to show that TOTE had privity and knowledge of the unseaworthy conditions of the vessel at the time it left its port or privity or knowledge of its negligent conditions on the vessel.

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