Legal Talk

JohnFulweiler_2012 New York ferry accident: Legal concerns

January 10, 2013

Ferries suffer the same indignities as their workboat brethren and are largely treated by the maritime law like any other commercial vessel.

When a commercial vessel is involved in a casualty, such as yesterday’s hard landing of the New York commuter ferry Seastreak Wall Street in Lower Manhattan that resulted in numerous injuries, several maritime legal issues arise.

For the company, there is likely a concern for protecting the corporate entity that owns and operates the ferry. These concerns involve investigating the cause of the accident, coordinating with the vessel’s insurer, responding to the requirements imposed by law such as crew drug and alcohol testing, and meeting the U.S. Coast Guard’s demands for personnel interviews and documents. The vessel’s insurer will appoint attorneys and other companies will also have their own private legal counsel ride shotgun and provide updates on the insurer’s decisions and efforts. There’ll also probably be consideration given to the merits of filing a Limitation of Liability action. In this move, a vessel owner without knowledge of the cause of the incident can seek to limit its liability to the post-casualty value of the vessel. This action can force all of the claims into a single, federal courtroom. You may recall that the City of New York took this course in the context of the 2003 Staten Island Ferry disaster.

The injured passengers will likely seek compensation to somehow remedy the pain and suffering and to pay for medical expenses, lost wages and other damages. Generally speaking vessels owe their passengers a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances.

The cause of the Manhattan ferry accident is under investigation, but other entities are likely speaking with legal counsel. The terminal owner might be concerned about preserving evidence showing that the pier was suitable and that there were no obstructions or defects at the time of docking. If the ferry’s new rudders and propellers had anything to do with the allision, you might find the component manufacturers, installers and naval architects who perhaps blessed the change all touching base with their admiralty counsel for guidance on preserving documents and preparing a defense if one is required.

Each day, Manhattan ferries move a lot of passengers without incident. Hopefully, this ferry accident will not curtail a thriving industry and will only make future passages safer.

Expand/View Comments -  2 Comments
02/15/2013 15:30:39 G. W. Elderkin says:

Likewise, we must not forget that there will be CIVIL LAWSUITS against the captain, mate helmsmen etc. This has become a MAJOR problem within our industry and it is not well understood by many. It has now gotten to the point where a captain has to transfer his personal assets into his wife's name to seek total protection or he will be wiped out. If your in your late 40's, 50's & 60's you have at risk an entire life time's worth of hard work at risk/on the line. Special insurance may be available but it is costly and for many of us who work for small time (Mom & Pop) boat companies your wages are too meager to afford this type of insurance. Forget any help from the Mom & Pop employer they will throw you under the keel to save their company (perhaps on the advice of their attorney). The problem we are facing with CIVIL LAWSUITS is the result of overly aggressive attorney's looking not just for deep pockets but any/all sources of dollars for higher judgements. Its a classic case of throwing up as much shit on the bulkheads to see what sticks. Any way you cut it captains, mates etc need relief, protection and affordable insurance to protect their careers, assets, reputations as well having good EXPERT legal counsel available to them at reasonable cost. MAY I SUGGEST STRONGLY THAT WORKBOAT DEVOTE A SERIES OF UP TO DATE REPORTS AND PROFILE THIS TIMELY ISSUE IN FULL/COMPLETE DETAIL. THE MATTER IS LONG OVER DUE AND WE ALL CAN DEEPLY BENEFIT FROM THE LATEST ADVICE AND COUNSEL.

02/15/2013 10:03:04 Ann Ryan says:

This is a situation when Marine License Defense Insurance would also come into play for the Captain and the licensed officers involved. This would provide expert counsel and representation to each of them and ensure that their individual interests are protected, their licenses are defended against any Coast Guard action as a result of this incident, and they can continue to work under their licenses.


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