Offshore InjuryBlog

Arnold & Itkin Clients Still Stand Against Tote Maritime

It has been well over a year since the cargo ship El Faro sank en route to Puerto Rico after getting caught in Hurricane Joaquin. The ship went down on October 1, 2015, leaving all 33 crew members missing and presumed dead—and leaving their families to wonder what happened. offers an update on ordeal for the surviving families.

Tote Services Inc. and Tote Maritime Puerto Rico—the owner of the El Faro—has now settled with all but 5 of the 33 families. On Tuesday, Tote settled with three families for $500,000 for their pain and suffering, plus agreed-upon pecuniary damages for economic losses. These settlements are reported to mirror the settlements reached with the other families.

Tote Seeks to Limit Their Total Liability

While the remaining families fight for fair settlements after their tragic losses, Tote is seeking to have these settlements credited toward their total liability—which they are seeking to limit to approximately $15 million. How do they hope to do so? Through the Limitation of Liability Act—an arcane maritime law from 1851.

The Limitation of Liability Act was created to protect shipping companies from being held responsible for unforeseen catastrophes. Essentially, a vessel’s owner could limit claims to the value of the ship and its goods—as long as owners could prove that they were unaware of the issues leading to the disaster at sea. In practical terms, if a storm sank a ship and the owners had no idea a storm was coming, they would be protected from claims that could end their business.

Here’s why that law is outdated and doesn’t apply here:

  • Tote knew the weather patterns prior to the El Faro disaster
  • Tote had full communication with its captain prior to the storm
  • Tote knew their ships had issues—the El Faro was scheduled for renovation for after the trip
  • Tote is in no danger of bankruptcy from providing these families with what they deserve

Our firm recognizes this appeal to the Limitation of Liability Act for what it is: a waiting game, used to pressure grieving families into settling claims that should be brought before a jury, publicly and loudly.

Federal court has set a date in May 2018 to determine whether or not Tote may limit their liability. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is set to hold its third and final hearing on February 6, 2017 regarding the sinking of the El Faro. The matter is also being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Arnold & Itkin LLP and other firms representing the families of the lost crew members are fighting against this limit of liability. The firm’s clients are the last few estates who have not accepted the offer from Tote Maritime—primarily because Tote has yet to accept responsibility for what happened that night in October 2015.

As a company with a history for ships that lack basic maintenance or lose engine power while at sea, Tote should not be allowed to limit their liability based on an outdated and irrelevant law. The fact remains: as a corporation, their most foundational role is to ensure that their ships are seaworthy and that their captains are encouraged to make decisions in the interest of the crew’s safety—not the shipping schedule.

Families Still Fighting for Answers & Justice

Arnold & Itkin currently represents three of the families still seeking justice against Tote. In the article, Attorney Jason Itkin is quoted saying:

“These widows deserve justice. Tote still refuses to take responsibility for the El Faro disaster and has not learned from their deadly mistakes. Our clients want to know the truth about what happened, and they want Tote to acknowledge that their husband’s lives had meaning. We are committed to helping these widows on their quest for justice.”

While Tote states that they have focused on helping the families of the El Faro disaster, we believe that their bid to limit liability shows that they are focused more on profits than on supporting those who have suffered so much loss.

Our team is dedicated to helping these families hold Tote accountable for their actions and for the damages suffered by the families of the missing crew, and we are determined to get them answers as soon as possible.

Click here to read the full story on

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