Recently in Maritime Wrongful Death Category

November 9, 2015

Families of the El Faro Victims Have Only Until December 21, 2015 to File Wrongful Death Claims

El_Faro_Claims_Must_be_Filed_by_December_21_2015.jpgIn a move that is both unfortunate but expected, TOTE Maritime and Sea Star Lines obtained an order from a Federal Judge requiring the families of the 33 crew members who died while serving aboard the El Faro to file their wrongful death claims by December 21, 2015. This means that the families through a personal representative of the crew members' estates must file their claims in the Federal Middle District of Florida by the December 21, 2015 deadline or risk losing the right to sue TOTE Maritime and Sea Star Lines for the deaths of their loved ones.

Besides forcing grieving families to participate in a lawsuit which they may not be ready to emotionally address, the limitation proceedings initiated by TOTE Maritime and Sea Star Lines give the shipowners other distinct tactical advantages. First of which the limitation proceedings may entitle them to limit the total amount TOTE Maritime and Sea Star Lines have to pay the grieving families to $15,309,003.50. The order setting the December 21, 2015 filing deadline also stayed the various state court lawsuits brought against the El Faro's owners requiring them to refile their claims in the Federal limitation proceedings. The limitation proceedings also preclude the families from having a jury of their loved one's peers decide the case. Instead, a Federal Judge will be the sole fact finder.

As you can see, the limitation proceedings give the shipowners many advantages over the grieving families. However, the decision to bring a limitation proceeding in no way guarantees TOTE Maritime and Sea Star Lines, or more appropriately their marine insurance carriers, the ability to prevent the families of the 33 crew members from obtaining the true value of their claims. TOTE Maritime and Sea Star Lines could only achieve an order limiting their liability if they both prove by the greater weight of the evidence that they did not know nor could they have known of the unseaworthy condition(s) or negligent act(s) which caused the El Faro to sink. This may be very difficult given the facts of the case and admissions made by corporate officers of TOTE Maritime. There are also ways within the law for the families to stay the Federal proceedings and allow the case to be first decided within the state court system with the benefit of a jury.

Navigating a limitation proceeding could be very tricky. It is for this reason our attorneys have written a paper on the subject that was presented at a maritime law conference. If you are following the unfortunate events surrounding the El Faro sinking and would like to learn more about the Limitation Act and how it applies to this case, feel free to contact our Florida Board Certified Admiralty and Maritime Attorneys.

November 3, 2015

TOTE and Sea Star Lines File Limitation Proceedings in El Faro Sinking Case

Tote Seeks to Limit Liability in El Faro Sinking.jpgAs predicted by our Florida Board Certified Maritime Attorneys, TOTE Maritime and Sea Star Lines have filed a Petition for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability for any damages associated with the death of the 33 sailors aboard the El Faro. The lawsuit is pending in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The aim of the offensive suit is to exonerate, or if that fails, cap the amount payable to the families of the merchant mariners who lost their lives in the service of the ill-fated cargo ship. The question for those following this catastrophe is why TOTE who publicly stated "Our focus has been on supporting and caring for the family members, loved ones, and friends of those aboard the El Faro" is now seeking a Federal Court to exonerate it from any responsibility or limit the amount it must pay the families? The answer is simple. TOTE and Sea Star Lines' marine insurer has taken control of the defense of the case and the shipping companies are required under contract to cooperate in this legal maneuver so that the insurance company could lessen the amount of money it has to pay the victims' families.

Typically, a shipping company obtains liability insurance in the case of an injury or death occurring aboard its ship. The shipping company self-retains a portion of the exposure. This self-retention amount could range between one thousand to one million dollars. After that money is exhausted (either by paying defense attorneys or paying claims), the insurance company is responsible to pay the balance of the damage up to the policy limits (if there is a policy limit). As such, TOTE and Sea Star Lines' exposure is already capped at their self-retention. Consequently, the Limitation of Liability lawsuit filed on their behalf really only benefits the insurance company.

This is the very reason why courts within the last thirty years have criticized the Limitation Act as being outdated. The original intent of the Limitation Act was to promote United States shipping investment by providing an incentive for businesses by allowing them to limit their financial exposure should a maritime disaster occur. With the common use of insurance in modern times, shipping companies already have limited exposure and the only ones benefiting from the Limitation Act are the big insurance companies.
As we have written in the past, the mere filing of a Petition for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability does not automatically entitle TOTE and Sea Star Lines' insurance company to limit its financial exposure. It must be proven by the greater weight of the evidence that the unseaworthy condition or negligent act that caused the El Faro to sink was unknown or could not be known by Sea Star Lines or TOTE. This is very hard to prove given the advanced age of the ship, the reported leaking and boiler issues and the fact that TOTE could have overridden the captain's decision to try to out run Hurricane Joaquin.

Our Florida Board Certified Maritime Attorneys have vast experience in litigating limitation cases including ligating such cases in the Middle District of Florida and are available to provide assistance for those trying to navigate the pitfalls found within the Act.

October 29, 2015

El Faro Lawsuits and the Limitation Act

Fatal Course of the El Faro.pngOur maritime lawyers have recently been contacted by the media to provide legal insight on how the Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act may impact the lawsuits filed in the El Faro disaster. It is important from the outset to note that the Limitation Act is an over 150-year-old statute designed to encourage United States shipping enacted in a time when insurance was rarely extended to American shipowners. The reasoning behind the Limitation Act was to provide shipowners with a safety net to lessen their financial exposure should a maritime disaster strike. Congress hoped this, in turn, would encourage businesses to invest in shipping and operate vessels within the United States. In modern times, however, every shipping firm has marine insurance to protect them financially from a catastrophic loss such as a ship sinking. Given the common use of insurance, many courts have commented that the Limitation Act is outdated and no longer serves its intended purpose. Congress, however, has not removed the law from the books and a judge must apply the Limitation Act if invoked. The purpose of this post is to discuss how the Limitation Act may be used in the El Faro lawsuits.

The Limitation Act Will Not Likely Apply to All Defendants

Not every company named as a defendant in the El Faro lawsuits will be able to invoke the protection of the Limitation Act. As discussed above, the Act was designed to promote United States shipping. As such, only the ship's owner (and perhaps a charterer) may invoke the Limitation Act. The Coast Guard lists Sea Star Line as the El Faro's owner. The Limitation Act clearly allows Sea Star Line to invoke its protection. However, the ill-fated cargo ship appears to be operated by TOTE Maritime. In fact, TOTE Maritime's President Tim Nolan told reporters that his company had the authority to veto the Captain's decision to leave in advance of the storm. TOTE, not being the owner, has no right to seek Limitation Act protections unless it occupies the status of the vessel's bareboat charterer. Nothing has come to light in the thousands of reports on the El Faro that TOTE was the ship's bareboat charterer. As such it does not appear that TOTE will be able to seek limitation protections. Also, there were five Polish nationals who were a part of was what is known as the riding crew. Their employer will likewise not be able to take advantage of the Limitation Act.

It Will Be Very Difficult to Establish Limitation

The fact a company may have the right to invoke the Limitation Act does not mean it automatically can limit its liability. To obtain the benefits of the Limitation Act, the shipowner must establish by the greater weight of the evidence that it was unaware, or could not have become aware, of any negligent act or unseaworthy condition which caused the ship to sink. Given the reports that the vessel was aging, and its boilers were recommended to be overhauled, it appears that it will be very hard for the El Faro's owner to be able to limit its liability. To read more about the Limitation Act, feel free to read a paper on the topic our attorneys' wrote and presented at the Southeastern Admiralty Lawyers Institute's annual symposium by clicking here.

Request for Help

Our law firm has been contacted to represent multiple families of the El Faro's victims. To better serve these families, we are working with a well-known maritime safety expert to consult us on the mechanical and navigational aspects of the case. To assist us further, we ask that anyone who sailed aboard the El Faro or once worked for TOTE Maritime to contact us. We need to learn more about the El Faro's condition, history of repairs and maintenance as well as TOTE Maritime's policies and procedures. You may contact us toll free in the United States at (888) 499-0551or outside the United States at (305) 416-2901.

October 11, 2015

Was the El Faro Unseaworthy?

Was_El_Faro_Unseaworthy.jpgAs was widely reported, the Coast Guard has suspended its rescue mission for the crew of the 40- year-old El Faro which sank off the coast of the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. Since this incident made international news, stories are being shared about life aboard the ill-fated cargo ship. CNN reported that Kurt Bruer, a former quartermaster with six months of experience aboard the El Faro, stated that the ship had holes in its deck. Marvin Hearman who sailed on the ship as late as last August said there was rust everywhere. Hearman also revealed to CNN that the areas of the vessel such as the chief cook's room leaked water and that the ship has issues with drainage. Chris Cash, another former crew member, told CNN that the ship's owner Tote Services just bandaged the ship rather that preforming a proper repair. Tote disputes these claims and states the ship was properly maintained.

If the ship indeed was prone to leaking and Tote did not make the proper repairs, the company could be held liable for the crew's death under maritime law. Ship owners are obligated under the law to provide their crew with a ship that is reasonably fit for its intended purpose. If the ship owner fails to meet this burden, a judge or jury could find the ship unseaworthy. If an unseaworthy condition played any part in the El Faro's sinking, Tote would likely be found liable for the deaths and be required to pay compensation to the families of the lost crew members.

It is too early to draw any conclusions as to what caused the El Faro to sink. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the lost crew members. We will continue to follow this case and report.

October 6, 2015

Cargo Ship El Faro with 28 American Crew Members aboard Sunk Off the Bahamas

El_Faro_Sinking_Law.jpgThe United States Coast Guard confirms that the 790 foot cargo ship El Faro went down off the Bahamian coast with 28 American crew members aboard. The 41-year-old vessel was sailing from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico to deliver cargo. It is reported that the vessel lost power while trying to sail around the approaching Hurricane Joaquin near Crooked Island. With no power the crew took a direct hit from a weather system which had estimated 140 mile per hour winds producing waves up to fifty feet. The Coast Guard found a 225 square mile debris field from the El Faro days after communication was lost. Within it was the awful discovery of a deceased crew member in his survival suit. At the time of this blog entry, no survivors have been found. The Coast Guard is continuing its search. The El Faro's owner, Tote Maritime, has set up a website providing periodic updates.

What makes this maritime tragedy unique is that the El Faro is American flagged and crewed by 28 United States seamen along with Polish nationals. This allows the crew members and their families to be protected by United States Maritime Law including the Jones Act and Death on the High Seas Act. This body of law allows surviving crew members to recover compensation for both the physical and psychological trauma sustained from any negligence of Tote Maritime or unseaworthiness of the vessel. Maritime law also allows the families of lost crew members to recover their loved ones' future earnings as well spousal and parental support which they otherwise would have received but for the accident. The Jones Act also allows the family to recover pre-death pain and suffering.

We sincerely hope that crew members will shortly be found alive. The Maritime Law Blog will continue to post about this event as facts become known.

September 23, 2015

Fatal Boating Collision off Watch Hill Light, RI

Krupinski Peggy K Death.jpgThe U.S. Coast Guard has reported that a 60-foot Princess yacht collided with a 25-foot commercial fisherman's vessel, southwest of Watch Hill Lighthouse. The collision occurred early Tuesday morning at approximately 10:00 a.m. The collision caused the fisherman's vessel to capsize, and the 81-year-old fisherman aboard the vessel sadly died.

Authorities have not yet released the identity of the deceased fisherman. However, the has reported that the fisherman's friends at Walker's Dock have identified him as Walter Krupinski, a commercial rod-and-reel fisherman who apparently sold his catch at Stonington Town Dock. The identity of the yacht operator has also not been released, but the operator was reportedly not injured. The Coast Guard escorted the yacht away from the collision scene.

An investigation is underway but sea conditions were rough at the time of the collision. The investigation will be conducted by Westerly police and officers from the State Department of Environmental Management's law enforcement division. Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Mr. Krupinski.



New Haven Register

September 21, 2015

One Dies Four Injured in Florida Intracoastal Waterway Boating Accident

Pompano Beach Boat Accident.jpgSeveral news agencies are reporting a fatal boating accident which occurred last Saturday night in the Pompano Beach, Florida Intracoastal Waterway. Though no eye witnesses have yet to be identified, at least one person heard the accident. Tracia Latino stated that she was watching television at her home when she heard a crash which sounded like thunder. Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the incident, said two boats, one carrying five people and the other carrying two collided around 8:21 p.m. Authorities were notified that one person went missing after the crash. The Coast Guard halted all boat traffic for several hours in order to conduct a search for the missing boater. After a long search by several agencies throughout the night, the body of the missing man was recovered Sunday afternoon. Law enforcement later identified the man as William Alfred Ineson, Jr.

Photo Credit:
Sun Sentinel

June 28, 2015

Eight Holland American Line Cruise Passengers Tragically Die While on an Alaskan Shore Excursion Sight-Seeing Tour

Alaska_Plane_Crash_Kills_9.jpgEight Holland American Line cruise ship passengers tragically died on Thursday, June 25, 2015 when a DeHavilland DHC-3 Otter float plane crashed, some 25 miles northeast of Ketchikan, Alaska. The crash occurred at approximately 2:00 p.m., at about 800 feet above a lake in the Misty Fjords area. Onboard the sightseeing flight at the time of the crash were the eight cruise passengers plus the pilot. Despite some investigation by authorities, the cause of the horrible crash into a cliff has not yet been identified. Alaska State Troopers, however, have identified the victims as: Hal Cheney, 71 and Mary Doucette, 59, both of Lodi, California; Glenda Cambiaso, 31 and Hugo Cambiaso, 65, both of North Potomac, Maryland; June Kranenburg, 73 and Leonard Kranenburg, 63, both of Medford, Oregon; Margie Apodaca, 63 and Raymond Apodaca, 70, both of Sparks, Nevada; and the pilot, Bryan Krill, 64, of Hope, Idaho.

All eight passengers were sailing on the MS Westerdam, a Holland American cruise ship that departed Seattle, Washington on Saturday, June 20, 2015 for a seven-day round-trip cruise. News outlets have reported that the sightseeing airplane ride was a shore excursion sold through the cruise line Holland American Line. The actual float plane is owned by a company named Promech Air, self-identified as the largest "air taxi" operating in southeast Alaska for 30 years. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, just two years ago in 2013, another Promech Air float plane crashed on Prince of Wales Island, injuring four people. It is unknown whether Holland American Line was aware of this prior incident.

Generally, shore excursions sold through a cruise line contain exculpatory clauses that purport to relieve a cruise line and/or a shoreside excursion company from any liability resulting from an accident or injury that may occur during a shoreside excursion. While narrow and unambiguous exculpatory clauses have been enforced by certain courts in favor of cruise lines and shore excursion operators, cruise lines may still be held responsible for the negligent selection of a shore excursion company. We will continue to follow the investigation into this devastating crash, including whether Holland American Line was aware of Promech Air's prior incident but nevertheless continued to offer and sell the company's tours to its cruise ship passengers.

Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to the families of the crash victims.



May 18, 2015

Girl Drowns in NCL Cruise Ship Pool

Norwegian Gem Pool.jpgTragedy has struck. It is being reported that a 10-year-girl has drown in one of the swimming pools aboard the NCL operated Norwegian Gem cruise ship. Coast Guard Spokesperson, Nate Littlejohn, stated the cruise ship was 75 miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when the girl drowned. The ship's medical staff administered CPR, but the girl could not be revived, according to the statement released by Norwegian Cruise Lines. The Norwegian Gem was on a seven day voyage from New York to Florida and the Bahamas. The Coast Guard is investigating the death.

We have written extensively on aquatic safety not only aboard cruise ships but at resorts and sadly our attorneys represented families of drowning victims. Often times we have proven that pool drowning deaths are 100% preventable. There is no reason why many cruise lines do not staff their ships with life guard and do not have childproof barriers. Such safety precautions are uniformly followed by shore side resorts. These precautions are relatively inexpensive and save lives.

We invite you to read our other articles about pool safety.

Toddler's Pool-Drowning Underscores Need for Pool Safety Procedures (Published on Apr. 30, 2015)

Two Passenger Drowning Incidents Occur at Disney's Castaway Cay (Published on Mar.6, 2015)

Boy Who Nearly Drowned Aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Left in Critical Condition (Published on Jan. 6, 2015)

Five South Florida Drownings in Three Weeks (Published on Oct. 19, 2014)

Boy Found on Bottom of Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Fights for Life (Published on May 31, 2014)

Child Drowns in NCL Ship's Pool (Published on Feb. 4, 2014)

Florida Boy Drowns in Carnival Cruise Ship's Pool (Published on Oct. 15, 2013)

Judge Rules Sandals Resorts & Pool Component Manufacturers Must Stand Trial in Miami, Florida for Bahamas Entrapment Drowning Death (Published Mar. 27, 2013)

March 28, 2015

Royal Caribbean Cruise Passenger Feared Dead

Liberty of the Seas Accident Attorney.bmpThe Coast Guard has called off its search for Frank Slippo, a Royal Caribbean cruise passenger, who fell overboard the Liberty of the Seas. CCTV cameras confirm that the 43-year-old Slippo climbed over the railing at around 9:00pm last Sunday before falling off the cruise ship. The Liberty of the Seas was approximately 20 miles off the Florida Keys when the incident happened. As required by maritime law, Royal Caribbean began a search and rescue mission once it was confirmed the passenger fell overboard. Coast Guard Sector Key West was notified and conducted a 1,734 square nautical mile search lasting more the 57 hours. Slippo is feared dead.

March 18, 2015

Passenger Falls Off Galveston Based Cruise Ship

Carnival Triumph.jpgMultiple media sources are reporting that a passenger is believed to have died after falling off a Galveston based cruise ship operated by Carnival. On the evening of March 17, 2015 shipboard personnel aboard the Triumph were notified that a 57-year-old passenger fell overboard while the ship was off the northern coast of Mexico. CCTV video confirmed the passenger fell overboard. Cruise lines have a duty under maritime law to perform a search and rescue mission once it becomes known that someone, whether that person is a passenger or crew member, has fallen overboard. It is reported that the ship notified Mexican authorities and initiated a search and rescue operation. The next morning Mexican authorities found a body believed to be the passenger who fell off the cruise ship. The Triumph was returning to Galveston from a five day Mexican cruise.

March 8, 2015

Barge Sinks in Ft. Pierce Inlet Drowning Deckhand

A 100 foot barge built in 1957 sunk in the Ft. Pierce Inlet drowning a deckhand. The barge was being towed by a 54-foot Gulfstream from Key Biscayne to Georgia. The towing operation was performed by Reed Adams, Charles Griffin, Rodney Grambo and Dominick Tortorice. The decision to attempt the inlet was made when the barge began to take on water offshore. The fast outgoing tide through the inlet proved too much and the half century old barge causing it to break up and sank. Unfortunately, Tortorice did not make it off the barge in time. Reed Adam told media that the barge's superstructure collapsed on Tortorice moments before the vessel when down. Tortorice's body was later found offshore. Authorities suspect the outgoing tide carried his body away from the accident scene.

Ft. Pierce Inlet was closed after the event as the Coast Guard feared other boats may strike the sunken barge causing additional accidents. The inlet has been since reopened to recreational boats with drafts less than six feet upon clearance from an official managing vessel traffic in the area.

The barge has been reported to be in two pieces and has created a debris filed in and around the inlet. Given the swift current in Ft. Pierce Inlet, the depth where the barge sank and its weaken condition, Coast Guard indicated it will be difficult to remove the wreck. The salvage operation is being performed by Resolve Marine Group based out of Ft. Lauderdale. No time table has been set for when the barge will be removed and the inlet completely reopened.

A tug and barge owner owes the deckhands working for it the legal duty to provide a vessel that is seaworthy and reasonably fit for its intended purpose. Should a deckhand become injured or die as a result of an unseaworthy barge, maritime law allows the seaman or his estate to recover certain money damages. The amount of damages depend on the circumstances.

February 15, 2015

Costa Concordia Captain Found Guilty of Manslaughter of 32 Cruise Passengers


On February 11, 2015, an Italian three-judge panel found Captain Francesco Schettino guilty of manslaughter of 32 cruise ship passengers traveling aboard the Costa Concordia off the Italian Coast on January 13, 2012. The panel's rulings include guilty verdicts on other charges in connection with the shipwreck, including personal injury to passengers and the Captain's abandoning of the cruise ship. Captain Schettino was sentenced to 16 years prison time. One of the most alarming allegations asserted at the Captain's trial was that the Captain deserted the ship before cruise passengers and crewmembers got off the ship. According to Prosecutor Alessandro Leopizzi, the Captain safely made his way to land "without even getting his feet wet".

During the trial, testimony was presented emphasizing alleged crew errors and equipment malfunctions during the frenzied period surrounding the shipwreck. Equipment malfunctions allegedly included failure of an emergency diesel generator, elevators' failure to shut down during the shipwreck and language barriers with the ship's crew, some of which barely spoke English.

Continue reading "Costa Concordia Captain Found Guilty of Manslaughter of 32 Cruise Passengers " »

February 6, 2015

Hollywood Man Dies When Boat Overturned Off Fort Lauderdale

76-year-old German Diaz of Hollywood, Florida has died when the 16 foot boat he and family members were aboard overturned in bad weather. The accident happened on February 4th just off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. Reports state Diaz and four member of his family were fishing when the weather conditions deteriorated. They tied the boat to a buoy to ride out the storm. When they tried to untie the line, it got tangled with the propeller causing the boat because to take on water before overturning. Everyone in the group were able to hold onto the overturned boat except Diaz. Divers ultimately found Diaz trapped under the boat wearing his life jacket.

November 30, 2014

Rescue Mission Ends for Missing Princess Cruise Passenger

Sun Princess Cruise Ship.jpgAustralian authorities call off a search for an elderly man who fell off and went missing from the Princess cruise ship Sun Princess. CCTV footage retained by the cruise line shows an 84-year-old passenger falling of the liner into the water on the night of November 24th. Princess stated the cruise ship turned around to look for the missing passenger after the man could not be found on board. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority stated survival was very slim given the man's age and weather conditions. This is not the first time in recent memory that a passenger fell off the Sun Princess. In October last year another elderly man went missing from the deck of the ship while it was off the northern Australian coast.