Cargo Ship Owner Files Motion to Limit Liability to $43.6M for Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Damages linked to the Baltimore bridge collapse could be as high as $4 billion, according to some estimates. However, an 1851 law may limit the ship owner's liability to the cost of the ship and its cargo

The owners of a ship that crashed into the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore, causing it to immediately collapse, have filed a motion in federal court requesting that its liability be limited to just under $44 million, despite total damage estimates predicted to be in the billions of dollars.

Last week, the MV Dali, a fully loaded container ship, lost power and collided with one of the bridge’s supports, sending the entire structure toppling into the Patapsco River. Six construction workers died in the accident, and the collapsed structure continues to block the channel to the Port of Baltimore, one of only four ports on the U.S. east coast able to handle ships of its size.

Not only did the bridge collapse cut off a major artery of traffic for the eastern seaboard, but it also temporarily made the Port of Baltimore unusable until the debris can be cleared for safe passage.

Experts say the bridge collapse could be the most expensive marine insurance accident in history, estimating damages of between $2 billion and $4 billion. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched an investigation into the accident to determine what happened, who is at fault, and how such incidents could be prevented in the future. However, a number of Baltimore bridge collapse lawsuits are expected in the coming weeks and months.

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On Monday, Grace Ocean Private Limited, the owner of the Dali, and Synergy Marine PTE Ltd., the ship’s management company, filed a petition to limit liability (PDF) in Maryland federal court.

The petition claims the owners and management company are not responsible for the crash, and even if they are found to be liable, that liability should be limited to $43.6 million. That includes the value of the ship, at about $42,500,000, and the value of the cargo, which they approximate was about $1,170,000.

“Petitioners claim exoneration from liability for any and all losses or damage arising out of the Casualty and from any and all claims for damages that have been or may be filed,” the petition states. “Petitioners further allege that they have valid defenses to any and all such claims.”

The filing was made under the provisions of an 1851 law that limits liability to the remaining value of a vessel after an accident or incident occurs. It was put in place at a time when crossing oceans was a much more dangerous endeavor, with shipping losses common enough that if companies were held liable for the full damages of such incidents, many would have gone out of business.

Baltimore Bridge Collapse Lawsuits Expected

Experts are already predicting the ship’s owner, Grace Ocean, could face massive liability lawsuits in the near future, potentially putting the Singapore company on the line for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine could  face wrongful death lawsuits from the families of the lost construction workers, and economic damages from a myriad of sources, as the loss of the bridge is expected to have massive impacts on international shipping and supply chains worldwide.

The loss of the bridge is also expected to negatively affect local jobs and businesses, not to mention the catastrophic damage to the bridge itself, which is now utterly destroyed.

As the investigation unfolds, it is expected that a number of other entities will also bear responsibility for the crash, either directly or from a failure to take steps that could have avoided the tragedy.

The investigation, cleanup of the debris, re-opening of the Port of Baltimore, and construction of a new bridge are expected to take some time. However, the Biden Administration, as well as state and local authorities, have vowed to address the problems as soon as possible.

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