In 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.