US Court Imposes 45-Day Deadline for El Faro Legal Claims

Florida-based district court has determined December 21st as the final deadline for the filing of legal claims on behalf of the family members of the 33 crew members of the ill-fated cargo ship El Faro, Reuters reports.

The ruling comes on the back of last week’s request for court protection lodged by Tote Services, owner of the sunken cargo ship, seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability for the deaths of the ship’s crew.

Aside to giving a 45-day deadline, the court also said that the legal claims must be filed in Jacksonville.

In line with the court order, Steamship Mutual Underwriting Association will, acting on behalf of Tote, deposit USD 15 million within 10 days, an amount proposed by the company as the liability cap.

Judge Harvey Schlesinger, signatory of the court order, suspended further lawsuits against Tote and placed stays on those suits that have already been filed, adds Reuters.

The request for indemnity was triggered by piling up of damage claims from the crew’s family members, the latest ones being filed by lawyers representing the families of the five Polish crew members, followed by Patrick Smith, the son of mariner Howard John Schoenly.

Tote claims that it had “exercised due diligence” to ensure the 40-year-old vessel was seaworthy, properly manned and well-equipped for its September 29 trip from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and should therefore be “exonerated from liability for any and all losses or damages sustained during the voyage … and from any and all claims for damages that have been or may hereafter be made.”

According to the lawsuits against the company, the ship, built in 1970, was too old and unable to withstand the strength of the Hurricane Joaquin that proved fatal for the ship’s crew on October 1st. Therefore, the ship owners and operators, who were in contact with the captain before the sinking, should have ordered the ship to “pull back, or change route to a safer route.”

World Maritime News Staff

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