Tote Maritime Files Federal Complaint to Limit Liability in El Faro Sinking

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Morgan & Morgan will be representing the family of a victim in the El Faro shipping disaster in a lawsuit against ship owner Tote Maritime. Tote Maritime is seeking to limit its liability following the devastating ship accident and wants to put $15 million into a fund available for anyone pursuing a claim regarding the El Faro accident.

On September 30th, the El Faro, a cargo vessel, made its final journey to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Jacksonville, Florida. Due to Hurricane Joaquin, the ship deviated from its planned course, encountering severe conditions north of the Bahamas. Soon after, the United States Coast Guard received a satellite message that the ship had lost engine power, lost propulsion, and that water had started to flood the ship. The ship was declared missing on October 2nd, with 33 people on board.

After an initial search and rescue operation by the US Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) started its investigation to recover bodies, document findings regarding the wreckage, and find the data recorder. The salvage team initially found one of the bodies in a survival suit and discovered an empty life raft, along with a lifeboat that could have hosted the crew. They had hoped to find the call recorder – or black box – which would have recorded information about the controls and sensors on the ship, and thus would have explained the ship’s progression prior to the disastrous accident. While the vessel was located on the 31st of October, about 15,000 feet away from its last-known position, the black box was never found. Officials gave up their search and ended the investigation on November 16th. All of the 33 on board are now presumed dead.

Lawsuits are being filed against Tote Maritime for its alleged negligent maintenance of ship standards and NTSB regulations. Earlier this year, the ship passed several coast guard inspections. Senator Bill Nelson (D) Florida requested that the company reflect on its policies regarding severe weather, and also commented that the vessel’s lifeboats were outdated. Tote Maritime is now seeking to limit damages of all the lawsuits regarding the El Faro accident to approximately $15 million. The company is claiming that the ship was properly equipped and manned and that it wasn’t made aware of any regulatory violations regarding the El Faro.

According to a federal judge in Florida, families of the victims have to file a damage claim before December 21st if they wish to receive compensation for their losses. This deadline is based on an old maritime law that Tote Maritime cited in their federal complaint. Matt Morgan is the attorney at Morgan & Morgan representing the family of one of the victims in the accident. “What happened with El Faro was shocking, and the families of victims who died deserve to understand what happened to their loved ones that night and why it happened. El Faro reminds us all that stringent policies must always be maintained with any vehicle that carries a human being,” he said. Tote Maritime is likely to face additional lawsuits from the families of victims before the December deadline. 

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