$535,000 Settlement – Virgin Islands Ferry Grounding
Although the United States Virgin Islands are over 1,500 miles away from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, they all make up part of what is known as the 3rd Circuit.
This particular case involved the grounding of a passenger ferry, on a pitch-black night in the Caribbean, where the vessel’s radar was inoperative, and the allegations were that the captain of the vessel was attempting to navigate the ferry via use of the GPS on his cell phone. Many passengers were injured, and the combined claims were far and above the value of the ferryboat.
Accordingly, the shipowner attempted to use against the passengers’’ claims, a mechanism of admiralty law known as Limitation of Liability. This is a very old aspect of maritime law that dates back to medieval times, and was implemented statutorily in the United States to attempt to protect the American shipping industry. (One well-known Limitation of Liability case involved the sinking of the Titanic). If limitation was successful, then the total amount that the ferryboat owner would have to pay to all injured passengers would be limited to the value of the vessel after the wreck. (In the case of the Titanic, they attempted to limit the amount of the total claims to the value of the surviving lifeboats).
One way to defeat Limitation of Liability is to demonstrate that the negligent conduct occurred within the knowledge of the owner of the vessel. For purposes of personal injury claims, the knowledge of the captain of a negligent situation is sufficient. Here, because the captain knew that the radar was inoperative, we were able to reach settlements on behalf of all of the passengers that far exceeded the value of the ferry. Although we have faced many attempts to limit liability, we have defeated every such attempt to limit our client’s recovery.
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