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Settlements For El Faro Families

Hurricane Joaquin made headlines last year as it ripped through South Carolina, causing many to be misplaced from their homes and hundreds of others look for essentials such as water and a bed. While this travesty was devastating in the southern state, the major news that was endlessly being updated was the case of the missing cargo ship called El Faro.

El Faro was built in 1975 and used as a cargo ship that travelled between Jacksonville, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Before heading out last year, the captain of the ship knew of the impeding weather issues but gathered that he could get around it. Michael Davidson is the captain–whose wife defended his reasoning– stating that, “my husband is extremely capable; he has extensive training. If anyone can handle a situation like that, it’s my husband; so, we are hopeful that he’s just waiting it out and that they’ll be rescued today,” she told reporters on [1]. Even so, before the captain and his crew of 33 merchant mariners left port, the storm was a tropical depression. While at sea, the storm shifted into a category 4 master storm that may have claimed all of their lives.

Although Ms. Davidson was hopeful, the Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said the 790-foot container ship El Faro, with 33 people aboard inevitably sank. Twenty-eight of which were Americans [2]. Unfortunately, all 33 aboard died.

Maritime Law

The families of crew members LaShawn Rivera, Larry Davis, Jeffrey Mathias and Mariette Wright have each settled wrongful death lawsuits with El Faro’s parent company, TOTE Services. This actually brings the total amount of families who have settle with Sea Star Lines and TOTE to 18. TOTE said in a statement,

“Since the loss of the El Faro, we have focused effort on supporting the families of those on board. An important part of this support has entailed reaching fair and swift legal settlements for those who may have choose them. We can confirm that we have settled financially with 18 families through a respectful and equitable mediation process. We stress that our support of all the families will continue. Out of respect for the legal process and the privacy of the families, we will not discuss the specifics of any individual legal actions.”

Attorney Jason Itkin of Arnold & Itkin LLP, a Houston-based lawyer whose firm represents four El Faro crew members who have not settled their lawsuits against the parent company replied by stating,

It’s sad to see TOTE use outdated maritime laws to push these families into settling for much less than what they deserve. IF our senators and other politicians would do something about updating the Limited Liability Act of 1851, TOTE would not have the power to put these grieving families in the difficult positon of settling when they deserve so much more. We’ll be continue the fight for the families we represent, and we want to send a message to TOTE and to other shipping companies that they cannot afford to be reckless with people’s lives.” [3]

The Limitation of Liability Act is from 1851 and its purpose was to promote and encourage the growth of American shipping and the American merchant fleet. As such, if certain factual prerequisites are met, a shipowner can limit its liability for a casualty to the value of the vessel and the freight then pending. Shipowners are also entitled to limit their liability if the negligence or unseaworthy conditions which cause the loss occurred without the privity and knowledge of the owner. Moreover, TOTE as the parent company is permitted to claim a limitation of liability in this case due to the act [4].

Repercussions of Boating

While the maritime law explained is old, here in Florida, we have our own issues with civilian boating accidents. In fact, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida not only leads in the country in the amount of registered boats, but is also ranked first among all states in boating accidents and fatalities. Despite the reality that Florida holds the title of having the most registered boats, it does not require a person over the age of 21 to complete a boating course to learn the most basic rules and guidelines for safe boating operations Many people incorrectly believe that they assume any and all risk associated with recreational boating once they aboard a yacht, boat, or other watercraft. The path of recovery for injury while on a yacht, boat, or other type of watercraft depends on the injured person was an employee or guest of the watercraft owner. If the injury was caused by a violation of a navigational regulation then the injured party is entitled to a rebuttable presumption that the violator is liable.

Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA

Passengers and guests that are injured due to boat operator negligence may be entitled to recovery for past and future medical bills, lost wages, in addition to the pain and suffering caused by the accident. The Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA is a Clearwater personal injury law firm that handles maritime claims throughout the State of Florida. For more information regarding boat injury and maritime related claims, call us today at (727) 451-6900.

Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, Florida 33765



[1] https://www.thespec.com/news-story/5946620–there-is-a-hurricane-out-here-and-we-are-heading-straight-into-it-a-daughter-s-last-words/
[2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/10/05/coast-guard-missing-cargo-ship-sank-hurricane/73369756/
[3] https://www.news4jax.com/news/local/jacksonville/4-more-el-faro-families-settle-with-tote_
[4] https://www.miamimaritimelaw.com/limitationofliability.asp