Offshore InjuryBlog

Judge Sets 2018 Date to Determine Tote Liability

The judge overseeing the El Faro case has given all parties—the vessel owners and the plaintiffs holding them accountable—until May 7th, 2018 to prepare arguments about why Tote should or shouldn’t have limited liability protection in this case.

Below, we discuss the El Faro case, how Tote is arguing for limited liability, and why this court date matters.

Why This Decision Matters to Us

For readers who are unaware, Arnold & Itkin is currently representing bereaved families of the El Faro crew, who were lost at sea last October en route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. The ship had a history of engine failure and was undergoing major renovations when the captain steered it directly into Hurricane Joaquin. The wreckage remained missing for over a month.

Tote has settled with 21 of the 33 crew members’ families, with 12 remaining adamant about pursuing justice. Four of those families are our clients. We believe they deserve more than a settlement. They deserve answers. We are determined to uncover what happened at sea in early October, helping our clients get closure and compensation for their loss. 

The Florida Times-Union quoted our own Kurt Arnold regarding our intentions regarding this case, both for our clients and for the rest of the families of the lost crew: “It’s not just money. It’s the truth…You want to hold [Tote] accountable.”

Tote Seeks to Limit Their Liability

The current issue at stake is this:

Tote Maritime, the owners of the El Faro, argue that their liability should be limited to $15 million, based on the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The law states that vessel owners can limit their liability to the value of the vessel and its cargo when a disaster occurs, as long as the ship owner lacked knowledge of the problem beforehand.

It is a useful law...for ship owners who don’t own radios, satellite or GPS equipment, or any technology created after 1851.

The law was written when ship owners had no way of knowing what happened to their ships while at sea. Today, ship owners can remotely see and control every aspect of their ship’s voyage in real time. The law is a relic from a time before long-distance communication. It rightfully protected vessel owners 250 years ago—it is a different story today.

The judge has chosen to allow both Tote Maritime and our clients nearly 2 years to gather their materials and prepare arguments regarding whether or not Tote should be protected under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851.

The Unofficial Issue at Hand: the Waiting Game

The other attorneys involved with this case are concerned about the long-term date—prolonging the case only delays the answers and compensation available to the crew’s grieving families. The concern is that Tote is using the law to give them a settlement advantage—the longer families have to wait, more likely they are to settle before the trial can begin.

Thankfully, the ongoing investigation means more documents are being released every day. Tote has agreed to release 700,000 documents over the next few weeks for the sake of those seeking damages. Our attorneys are ready to begin a thorough examination of every document, determined to get to the bottom of this case.

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