When you are riding on a ferry or cruise liner, you probably never consider the possibility of a collision between vessels. While these types of accidents are rare, they do occur and can result in severe injury or even loss of life. Insurers of commercial owners of vessels that provide boating excursions to the public understand the complex maritime and admiralty law that apply in such incidents and that possess the litigation resources to tenaciously fight liability. In certain cases, ship owners will utilize tactics designed to cap the damage recovery and deprive an injured passenger or surviving family members of full recovery for their loss. In this blog post, our cruise accident attorneys review the recent federal court decision in Holzhauer v. Gold Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District regarding the attempt of a ferry line owner to limit liability for injuries incurred in a collision with another vessel.
Our Miami cruise ship injury lawyers are very familiar with a strategy commonly employed by owners of ships to limit their negligence liability for boating accidents. The ferry was taking about 500 passengers on a thirty-minute excursion when it crashed into a speed boat. Two people on the speed boat incurred injuries in the collision causing one to die. The captain of both vessels indicated they did not notice the other vehicle until it was too late to avoid the accident. The plaintiff introduced evidence that the captain of the ferry was using his mobile phone immediately before the vessels collided. The estate of the decedent alleged that the captain of the ferry was distracted which constituted the proximate cause of the fatal collision.
The attorneys for the ferry owner’s insurance carrier employed a common strategy utilized in cases involving collisions between vessels that cause serious injuries or fatalities. This approach relies on a federal statute referred to as the Limitation of Liability Act that was enacted over 150 years ago. Under this law, the owner of a vessel can file a lawsuit requesting a federal court judge rule on liability or limit damages to the post lost value of the ship. Although courts have widely criticized the archaic statute, judges will still apply the law under the appropriate circumstances. Because this statute could result in harsh limits on the damages of a person seriously injured or killed in a collision between vessels, passengers on a vessel who suffer an injury should seek prompt legal advice from an attorney experienced in maritime and admiralty law.
For the owner of the ship to prevail, the judge must find that any negligence by the company was not within its “knowledge or privity.” This standard essentially mandates that the cruise line was unaware of the negligent conduct and could not have learned of the negligence through a reasonable investigation. The company that owned the ship argued that it was not aware of the captain’s negligence for using his cell phone. Based on this lack of knowledge of the plaintiff’s negligence, the ship owner attempted to persuade the court to limit the liability to the worth of the ferry.
The court rejected the ferry owner’s contention because the company failed to adopt a policy banning captains from using mobile phones while operating ferries. Because the company allowed captains to carry and use a personal cell phone, it could not rely on the federal statute to cap damages at the value of the ferry’s post-loss value.
Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence
Our Miami cruise injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the fullest financial compensation. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.