Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ship Owners Seek cap on Non-economic Damages in Federal Court for Claims relating to the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse.

        On March 26, 2024, shortly before 1:30 am, the M/V Dali, a containership with a length of 299.92 meters, lost power while traveling at eight (8) knots, causing the ship to strike Baltimore's Key Bridge, causing the 47-year-old structure to collapse into the Patapsco River.  The bridge's collapse has resulted in the complete closure of the Port of Baltimore, one of the nation's busiest ports.  As a result of the collision or "casualty", two (2) construction workers lost their lives, four (4) are missing but presumed dead, and two (2) suffered unknown injuries but survived. 

       The ship's owners want a cap on their exposure.  Grace Ocean Private Limited and Synergy Marine PTE, ltd., as Manager of the M/V Dali, have filed a Petition for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability in the United States District Court of Maryland, Northern Division, seeking "exoneration from liability for any and all losses or damages arising out of the casualty and from any claims for damages that have been or may be filed."  Petitioners further "claim the benefits of limitation of liability provided by 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq." (aka "Limitation Act").  Basically, the ship's owners are asking the Court to cap their potential exposure at $43,670,000.00 (value of ship, aka 'sound value' of $90,000,000.00) plus its pending freight ($1,170,000.00) minus the repair and salvage costs ($28,000,000.00 and $19,500,000.00 respectively). 

      The M/V Dali owners will likely prevail in their request.  The Limitation Act states:

Except as provided in section 30524 in this title, (a) the liability of the owner of a vessel for any claim, debt or liability described in subsection (b) shall not exceed the value of the vessel and pending freight.  If the vessel has more than one owner, the proportionate share of the liability of any one owner shall not exceed that owner's proportionate interest in the vessel and pending freight.

46 U.S.C. § 30523.  Maryland's cap on non-economic damages, for an occurrence date in 2023, limits the amount of pain and suffering damages for injuries and wrongful death lawsuits at $935,000.00 if the victim survived and $1,402,000.00 if the victim died and there are two (2) or more wrongful death beneficiaries (Limitation of Non-Economic Damages, Courts & Judicial Proceedings Articles 3-2A-09, Md. Ann. Code).  A "survival action" cap is likewise, $935,000.00. This can be added to the aforementioned wrongful death claim cap to a combined total of $2,375,000.00

        The Port of Baltimore has suspended all maritime traffic until further notice.  The Port, our Port, handled 37 million tons of cargo in 2021 and is in the top 20 ports in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.  Container cargo trucks are still taking cargo in the port, but there are no maritime vessel imports or exports.  Truckers are especially hard, Maryland plated truckers that is, i.e., in order to transport container cargo out of the Port of Baltimore, a driver and his truck must have "apportioned plates" in order to leave the state of Maryland and deliver said cargo to other states. Unfortunately, many Port of Baltimore container haulers have Maryland plates only.  Consequently, these drivers cannot simply relocate to other ports, i.e., Port of Wilmington, Port of New York and New Jersey, and/or the Port of Virginia. 

        For automobile shipments, the Port of Baltimore was the nation's busiest,  handling 847,158 vehicles in 2023.  These vehicles, including the revenue generated by the handling of this particular type of cargo, is being diverted to other ports.  It remains to be seen whether this business and/or revenue will ever return to the Port of Baltimore and the Marylanders who work there. 

- Milton Warren, Associate