Class Action Opposes Limiting Ship’s Liability for Baltimore Bridge Collapse

By Andrew G. Simpson | April 26, 2024

A Baltimore small business has filed a class action against the owner and operator of the cargo ship Dali that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge last month.

The suit, filed Thursday by the Karen Austin, the founder of American Publishing, and her husband Charles, is an answer in opposition to the April 1 court filing by Dali’s owner, Grace Ocean Private Ltd., and manager, Synergy Marine Pte Ltd., seeking to limit their liability for the tragedy.

The crash into the bridge caused it to collapse into the river, taking the lives of at least six individuals and disrupting the Port of Baltimore, surrounding businesses, transportation and the regional economy.

The Austin lawsuit alleges that the crash and resulting deaths and damages were caused by the fault, negligence, and regulatory violations of the Dali owner and operator. The suit claims the ship owner and operator are not entitled to limit their liability because the Dali was known to be unseaworthy due to inadequate training, maintenance, equipment, and oversight.

Baltimore to Court: ‘No Way’ Should Ship’s Liability for Bridge Collapse Be Limited

The Austin suit seeks to represent the class of all businesses and individuals affected by the collapse of the bridge.

The suit takes a similar position to that taken by the city of Baltimore in its suit filed on April 22 in which it argues that Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine are not entitled to any liability limit because they were allegedly negligent for putting a “clearly unseaworthy vessel into the water.”

American Publishing is a publisher of resource directories serving the military communities stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade. Austin is a former counter-terrorism equipment specialist with a military and law enforcement background, according to her company’s website.

Ship Owner in Bridge Collapse Seeks to Limit Its Liability

The Limitation of Liability Act in some cases limits the liability of ship owners if they were not aware that the vessel causing the loss was in unseaworthy condition. The act covers personal injury losses such as deaths and collisions, as well as losses of property, goods, or merchandise.

Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine, in their April 1 court filing, claim the collapse of bridge was “not due to any fault, neglect, or want of care” on their part or on the part of the vessel or any parties for whose acts they may be responsible.

Insurance Industry Readies for Historic Losses From Baltimore Bridge Tragedy

They maintain that they shouldn’t be held liable for any loss or damage from the disaster. But if they are held liable, their liability should be limited to no more than the current value of the ship and its cargo after the crash, or $43.7 million. Before the crash, the value of the ship was about $90 million.

A criminal probe of the crash is underway by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The state has launched several programs to assist businesses hurt by the disaster, including a $12.5 million program that aims to prevent layoffs while recovery work continues. The federal Small Business Administration is also offering assistance to those affected by the bridge collapse in Maryland. Small businesses in the Mid-Atlantic region may apply for low-interest, long-term Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million

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