Owner of the Dali Files Under 1851 Limitation of Liability Act

In the aftermath of the Key Bridge collapse, insurance experts estimate that the damages arising from the bridge collapse could total more than $3 billion. That includes the cost of replacing the bridge, the business losses resulting from the port’s temporary closure, and (most importantly) the wrongful death claims for the six construction workers who lost their lives.

The question has become: “Who is liable for that $3 billion?” As is often the case with maritime law, the answer depends on a few different factors—namely, the relationships of each company to the Dali and to what degree that makes each company responsible for the six fatalities the morning of March 26.

The main parties in a liability claim would be:

  • Maersk: shipping company that was chartering (i.e. leasing) the Dali
  • Grace Ocean Private Ltd.: the Dali’s owner
  • Synergy Group: the company who employs the crew operating the Dali

Maritime law puts the most weight on the owner and/or operator of a given vessel; in this case, that’s split between Grace Ocean and Synergy Group.

A Few Million to Cover Billions in Harm

But as we predicted just a few days ago, Grace Ocean Ptd. Ltd. and Synergy Group have filed preemptively under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. Both companies have hired legal representation in Baltimore to file their claim, which petitions the court to 1) shield them from any liability in this situation, but failing that, to 2) limit the total liability to the worth of the vessel and its cargo.

Total liability, according to Grace Ocean, should be limited to:

  • $1.17 million in freight value
  • $41.4 million in current estimated value of the vessel

That adds up to roughly $43 million—or 1.4% of the damage caused by the accident. Viewed in that way, the difference between total immunity and limited liability is just a percentage point and some change.

Plaintiffs Only Have Until September 24 to File Claims

Part of the filing establishes a strict cutoff for wrongful death or injury claims. Now, these companies are imposing a deadline on plaintiffs to file with the court before September 24, which is just a few months away. In litigation terms, that's hardly any time at all.

This is the worst effect of preemptively filing for limited liability: families who are only just beginning to grieve the loss of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and nephews have less than six months to respond to the preemptive filing. The law typically gives people two years to respond after an accident.

Grace Ocean and Synergy Group just sped up the clock for any claims against them, pressing their advantage against people at the lowest point of their lives. 

Obviously, our firm is opposed to any attempt by these global billion-dollar shipping giants to put forward a pittance and call it even. But we’re even more opposed to these companies forcing these families into court before they’ve put their loved ones to rest.

As one of the foremost maritime injury firms in the country, we’ve seen this playbook dozens of times before. It’s as outrageous and unjust every time.

Construction Accidents,
Offshore/Maritime Injuries
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