Sinking of Cargo Ship El Faro: What Happens Next?

The maritime community has suffered a tremendous loss with the sinking of the El Faro. The families of the crew members are grieving and trying to grasp their devastating loss. Thirty-three crew members of all ages were lost in a horrific tragedy and everyone wants to know why did this happen. Questions range from:

  1. Should the vessel even been out at sea during the storm?
  2. If the engine did fail, what was the cause of the failure?
  3. Was their prior failures or problems with the engine?
  4. What work was being performed by the work gang from Poland that was on the vessel?
  5. Why did a door/hatch fail causing water to enter the vessel?
  6. Why did the vessel lose stability? Was it flooding, improper loading of cargo or another reason?
  7. Was the safety equipment from the life boats, survival suits, to EPIRIB adequate based on the vessels operating conditions?
  8. What was the overall condition of the vessel itself when it left port? Was the hull of the vessel rusted and leaking out causing water to accumulate and lead to it ultimate sinking?

A massive investigation is going to occur by the different governmental entities of the United States Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board, Tote Maritime to the various insurance companies involved. It will take years for the El Faro sinking investigation to be completed. Records and transmissions will be poured over and prior crew members and workers will be interviewed to try to piece together what happened when the cargo ship El Faro sank.

During this time, the families who lost their loved ones are more than often kept in the dark and are on the periphery of the investigation. Limited answers will be provided until the investigations are complete.

Can Family Members of El Faro Victims Hold Its Owners and Operators Liable?

One way which the families can conduct their own investigation, be entitled to documents and interview witnesses is by filing a wrongful death lawsuit under general maritime law against the employer of the deceased crew members, Tote Maritime and the owner, operator and manager of the vessel Tote, Inc./Sea Star Line LLC.

Under maritime law, if liability is established and certain maritime defenses are defeated, the families of the deceased crew members are entitled to monetary damages which, depending on factors, can include damages for the pre-death conscious pain and suffering of their loved one, loss of support to biological dependents as well as the loss of nurture and guidance for children of the deceased. 

What Does Petition for Limitation of Liability for Cargo Ship El Faro Mean for Surviving Family Members?

Even though maritime law provides a wrongful death action for the families of the deceased crew members, the law also provides a very old legal defense for the owner of the El Faro – Tote, Inc./Sea Star Line LLC. Under maritime law, a vessel owner can limit its liability/fault by filing a lawsuit called a Petition for Limitation of Liability.

In a Petition for Limitation of Liability, the vessel owner files a lawsuit seeking to limit its liability/fault to the value of the vessel and its freight pending. In this case, the value of the El Faro at the bottom of the ocean is zero. This means that if Petition for Limitation is granted, the families of the deceased crew members will recover nothing. To defeat a Petition for Limitation of Liability, i.e. Exoneration, the Claimants, which are the Estates of the deceased crew members, must prove that the Petitioner had privity, or knowledge, of the negligent or unseaworthy condition of the vessel at the time the El Faro left port.

Do Families of El Faro Cargo Ship Crew Members Have Legal Rights?

More than likely, the owner of the El Faro will be filing a Petition for Limitation of Liability in the next couple weeks. The families of the deceased crew members will know a Petition for Limitation of Liability has been filed because they will receive a certified letter informing them that a Petition for Limitation of Liability was filed in the courts.

The Estate of the deceased crew member must respond by a set deadline, generally three months from the time of the filing of the Petition, or they will forever barred from bringing a claim against the vessel owner of the El Faro. Also, the court will issue a restraining order barring any and all lawsuits against the El Faro or owner of the El Faro, Tote, Inc./Sea Star Line LLC.

El Faro Sinking Attorneys: El Faro Vessel Owner is Filing Legal Action and Why the Families Involved Should Too

It is very important for the families of the Deceased crew members to know their legal rights under maritime law. A Petition for Limitation of Liability is a complicated legal defense that can eradicate/foreclose any recover by the families. Latti & Anderson LLP has fought numerous Petitions for Limitation of Liability and have succeeded in recovering millions for injured crew members and the of families of deceased crew members.

In a recent Limitation of Liability proceeding, this past January, maritime attorneys Carolyn M. Latti and David F. Anderson, of Latti & Anderson recovered $8 million dollar settlement for the family of a deceased crew member who was burned to death from a fire in an engine room on a tug.

All the photographs and stories on the internet and the news stations remind us of the incredible loss that the families have sustained in losing their loved ones. It is a horrific time for the families at this time in their grief. But while the families are grieving, investigation and legal action is being commenced by the vessel owner. Family members of the deceased crew members need to protect their rights and contact a maritime attorney. Whether it be just to ask some questions, learn about maritime law or to tell us about you, your family and your loved one who died or just talk about how hard things are for you, Carolyn Latti or David Anderson is available to listen and talk.

Latti & Anderson LLP has the experience and knowledge to fight a Petition for Limitation of Liability and to file claims for monetary damages under maritime law. More importantly, through the lawsuits, we will help provide the financial security to the families, investigate the sinking in order to determine the cause of the sinking and to prevent this tragedy from occurring in the future.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families.

Latti & Anderson LLPNationwide Maritime Attorneys