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Baltimore files lawsuit against ship owner and manager in Key Bridge collapse

Bridge Collapse
Posted at 5:55 PM, Apr 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-23 18:22:24-04

BALTIMORE — The city of Baltimore filed a lawsuit Monday night against the owner and manager of the ship that crashed into the Key Bridge.

The court documents argue the ship's parent company should be held liable for crashing into the bridge.

The Mayor and City Council of Baltimore are demanding a jury trial.

Attorney Charles Simmons who teaches Maritime Law at University of Maryland School of Law and University of Baltimore School of Law, breaks this down.

The ship that crashed into the Key Bridge is owned by Grace Ocean Private Limited and managed by Synergy Marine PTE Ltd. The city of Baltimore filed a lawsuit Monday night against these companies.

"The city in its filing has made two claims. That it had proprietary in the things that were damaged, including the bridge and that it has other economic losses associated with the ship hitting the bridge," said Simmons who is a partner at Whiteford, Taylor and Preston LLP.

The attorney's representing the city state there were no high winds or any reason to believe a "disaster" was about to occur in the early hours of March 26 when the ship left the Port of Baltimore.

"They're saying that there weren't environmental factors that were in play, that doesn't mean that there weren't indicators of a potential disaster,” said Simmons.

In the claim, it states alarms went off showing the Dali had been experiencing an “inconsistent power supply”, hours before the ship departed. Then recorded audio from the boat showed "numerous alarms". The recorder briefly stopped recording and turned on again.

The attorneys in the lawsuit say the vessel had "incompetent crew" and that the vessel had "unseaworthy equipment and systems."

"All of the claimants including the city are going to come into court and say that there were indicators the ship owners knew that they had problems even before they left the port," said Simmons.

A petition was filed by the owner and manager of the ship asking for a $43.7 million limit on the liability payouts.

"This 1851 doctrine that says if there isn't privity or knowledge of an issue that gives rise to a maritime disaster than the owner should not be responsible for more than the value of the ship after the incident plus its freights pending,” said Simmons.

The City of Baltimore is asking the court to deny this, stating there were signs.

"If they can get over that hurtle of privity or knowledge the owners liability in the case will not be limited to the $43.7 million that's been asserted in the lawsuit," said Simmons.

It was about 1:28 in the morning when the Dali hit the bridge, where six people were killed. The documents state all commercial traffic was ceased. This also affects the 30,000 commuters who used the bridge to go in and out of the city every day.

Since the halt, this may take years to fully recover, and has a big financial burden for the city.

“They're saying things like with the bridge being down it cost money to redirect traffic, have public safety in place, to have a police force in place and fire officials to maintain roads that are going to experience heavier traffic," said Simmons.

U.S. District Judge James Bredar said anyone with a claim against the Dali owners must file by September 24.

The estimates from the court filing says the port generated over $70 billion in economic value last year, which includes billions of dollars in tax revenue for the government, that includes the city.

Now, it's waiting until that September 24 deadline. Simmons said the FBI is also investigating this.