In the aftermath of the El Faro tragedy, we have been asked a lot of questions from families, the media, and others trying to find answers. This is similar to what happened after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. To understand the consequences of Tote’s legal maneuvering, an attorney needs an extensive background and knowledge regarding maritime law—a critical piece to this complex, tragic event.
We are maritime trial attorneys. We have an unmatched track-record of helping families affected by catastrophic offshore accidents and maritime disasters like this one. Over the last decade, no firm has done more to help mariners, Jones Act seamen, and other offshore workers than ours. We have made sure that our clients receive the financial compensation that will take care of them for the rest of their life.
If you are someone who has lost a loved one in the El Faro sinking, we would first like to offer our condolences on your loss. We would also like to take this opportunity to update you on the legal proceedings, give you insight into how a law firm could help you, and ensure you understand the different ways you can protect your own legal rights.
The sinking of the El Faro is one of the worst offshore accidents to happen in recent history, and it left a lot of people with a lot of questions. Three of the most important questions include:
On behalf of our clients, as well as all of those affected, we are demanding answers. More than that, we will be demanding justice. We want to ensure the companies involved not only take responsibility for their role, but that other companies learn from these mistakes so a similar tragedy does not occur in the future. We are currently working with government authorities, private experts, and outside investigators to make sure we get the real answers for our clients and to make sure the same mistakes are never repeated.
One of the most critical components about the sinking of the El Faro is that this ship was approximately four decades old. It had at least 23 documented deficiencies reported with the U.S. Coast Guard and a history of losing power. About four years ago, it reportedly lost power and was disabled in open water on a voyage—something that a later investigation tied to faulty equipment. The cargo ship was also receiving significant repair, maintenance, and alteration to its boilers before it left port for the last time. In fact, another company had been hired to perform vessel maintenance, repair, and alterations both before and during its final voyage.
“We believe the defendants knew the El Faro was an aged and ailing vessel with structural problems and with a history of taking on water. The defendants knew, allowed, and encouraged the El Faro to leave port knowing the potential dangers that lay ahead of the hurricane.” – Maritime Attorney Kurt Arnold
So what does this have to do with the Jones Act? The Jones Act is designed to protect mariners. It provides a legal remedy for the negligence of employers and gives individuals affected by tragic maritime accidents a way to pursue compensation for negligence and the unseaworthiness of a vessel. As explained in the next section, the Jones Act allows for qualified seaman, and their families, to pursue claims for damages. If it turns out that the El Faro should not have been taken out to sea, then the affected families will have grounds for a claim.
For someone who is looking to file a maritime wrongful death claim, it is important to understand that there are three distinct areas of the law that may govern any claims. These different laws include:
The Jones Act allows a family to pursue a wrongful death action against the decedent’s employer should they lose a loved one through that employer’s negligence. However, in order for this piece of maritime law to apply, the decedent must have qualified as a seaman by passing the status test. In order to do that, they must:
In the case of the El Faro, everyone aboard the vessel should qualify as a Jones Act seaman. As such, their families have the right to file a lawsuit in state court and they would have a right for their claims to be decided by a jury.
While the Jones Act is only applicable to the offshore employer, The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) can be applicable to any party whose actions caused the death of the decedent. DOHSA was enacted by U.S. Congress and was intended to permit recovery of damages in wrongful death cases that were caused by negligent or unseaworthiness beyond three miles from the shore of any state. Unfortunately, DOHSA can be an extremely unfair law that does not allow grieving families the ability to recover fair financial compensation. We have been successful in winning recoveries for our clients far in excess of what the damage caps in DOHSA would normally permit.
One of the most common defenses in cases such as this is the Limitation of Liability.
Under this antiquated law from the 1800s, when times were significantly different, defendants can seek to limit damage claims to the value of the vessel at the end of a voyage plus pending freight so long as the owner is able to prove they did not have knowledge of any issue beforehand. Originally, the Limitation of Liability Act was designed to promote American shipping growth; however, it has since allowed those affected by maritime accidents to be shortchanged by the judicial system. In the case of the El Faro, the value would be minimal. In fact, it is estimated it would be potentially limited to approximately $14 million—meaning every crew member would be limited to receiving less than $1 million for the loss of their loved one. Defeating the Limitation defense can allow you to bust through this cap—this alone is why hiring a maritime attorney is so important.
You can’t do this by yourself. You need someone who has done it before.
Not every lawyer is capable of getting the evidence and ensuring you are protected.
On October 31, Tote Services Inc. took steps to file for exoneration from or limitation of liability in U.S. district court. Just 10 days prior, Attorneys Kurt Arnold and Jason Itkin predicted this exact move. The quick filing of this Limitation lawsuit shows that Tote is going to be extra aggressive in defending itself and seeking to limit the families’ recoveries. The filing of the Limitation lawsuit is directly contrary to the statements El Faro’s executives have been making to the media. In Tote Services’ filing, they claimed that the ship “was in all respects seaworthy and properly manned.” By doing so, they are actively taking steps to limit the rights of those affected by the sinking of the ship, and they are actively trying to limit their own responsibility. You do not have to let them do this to you and your family.
“If [the defendants] do seek to shirk their responsibilities…we will fight to ensure the families are properly compensated. We will show that the defendants are not entitled to limit their liability under this antiquated law from a bygone era, and we will also expose the Limited Liability Act of 1851 as the unjust and outdated law that it is.” – Attorney Kurt Arnold
At a time like this, you deserve to know your rights and options before you make any decisions that could impact you or your family’s future. We can help explain those rights to you and answer any questions you may have regarding the Limitation of Liability Action or any of the other maritime laws.
All of the above is complex, it is nuanced—and the law is often outdated.
Because maritime cases are different from ordinary work-related or personal injury cases, it is important to hire a firm that has a proven track record of making these companies take responsibility. It is absolutely critical that the attorney who handles this case is not a car accident attorney, let alone a bankruptcy or criminal defense attorney. The families who have been affected by the sinking of the El Faro need to be represented by a lawyer who has handled cases of this complexity before and who has expertise in the intricacies of maritime law.
Before you hire an attorney to represent you, there are several questions that you should ask:
Don’t trust your case to someone who is dabbling in this area of the law for the first time. Attorneys devote their entire careers to understanding maritime law—including jurisdiction, the proper steps to take when filing a lawsuit, and the ways to maximize the recovery of their clients. We have devoted ourselves to this area of practice, and we have proven our ability to protect the rights of injured offshore workers and their families.
Our firm currently represents more U.S. families affected by the El Faro tragedy than any other law firm in the nation. We have won hundreds of offshore injury cases for families from coast to coast; in fact, we have won cases in every state and recovered billions of dollars. We know our clients and their families rely on us to get their lives back on track—and we do not take this responsibility lightly. We encourage you to browse through our website and review our attorney profiles to learn more about us and the multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts we have won for our clients on an individual basis.
Many of you have probably been contacted by lawyers and investigators since the sinking. If you already have a lawyer, we hope you are now more educated on the matter. If you do not have a lawyer, we encourage you to research any lawyers you consider hiring to ensure they have maritime experience—because maritime law is much different than state law. It is very important that you hire an attorney who has a proven track record for taking offshore cases to trial. You want a lawyer who can help maximize your recovery—not just settle your case cheaply because they don’t know what they are doing or have the resources to fight.
Arnold & Itkin is widely recognized as the leader in offshore injury
and maritime law claims.
Please call us with any questions at (888) 346-5024. Our phones are answered 24 hours a day.
Arnold & Itkin represented nearly a third of the crewmembers injured in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Because maritime law is so complex and so complicated, it is crucial that you work with an attorney who has an in-depth understanding of how it works and who has proven themselves in similar cases before.