What Do the Titanic and a Commuter Ferry Have in Common?

They might both get the benefit of the maritime Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 30501-30512.

For those of you who haven’t been following the story (or forget that Manhattan is an island), here’s the background.  On January 9, a commuter ferry called the SeaStreak Wall Street was transporting commuters to lower Manhattan.  The ferry (for reasons that are unclear) lost control and crashed into a pier; more than 50 people were injured.  Claims very quickly have followed.  In anticipation of lawsuits, SeaStreak filed a proactive complaint in New Jersey federal court and alleged that under the Limitation of Liability Act, SeaStreak’s liability is limited to the value of the vessel (i.e. $7.6 million) – assuming liability is first found.  Anyone who wishes to contest SeaStreak’s position must file a claim by May 16.  Although no formal claims have yet been filed, counsel for the injured passengers are alleging that SeaStreak “was going too fast, utilized unsafe docking procedures and had an inadequately trained and supervised crew.”  These facts might establish “privity or knowledge” and thus defeat the Limitation of Liability Act.  The defense worked for the Titanic so, it just might work here as well; although notwithstanding this week’s deep freeze, we are unaware of the existence of icebergs in New York harbor.

For more information about this post, please contact Bob Cosgrove at rcosgrove@wcmlaw.com.