Injured Passengers File Suit for Cruise Ship Collision When Captain Fell Asleep at the Wheel

MIAMI, Florida–In a case we previously reported about, where we learned that not only is lack of sleep dangerous for someone driving a car, but also for someone driving a cruise ship carrying passengers, passengers have recently filed lawsuits arising out of the incident. Last August, the passenger cruise ship Spirit of Baltimore was carrying around 400 passengers when it crashed into the pier at Henderson’s Wharf Marina in Fells Point, Maryland, and two moored recreational boats. The crash happened at around 230 a.m. when the ship was returning to its berth after a midnight party cruise.

baltimore-harbor-1528252-300x225A Court Guard investigation revealed that the captain had been working other jobs, and had very little sleep. His mate had to leave the bridge of the ship to deal with a drunken passenger, another common problem on passenger ships.  While away, it is reported that the captain fell asleep at the wheel, resulting in the collision. Following the collision, the captain was fired, and a requirement that captains who feel sleepy must stay standing, notify a supervisor, and  have a mate ride in the bridge, was implemented.

The accident resulted in around 100,000 worth of damages, plus personal injuries to passengers on board the ship. Now, according to recent news reports, 28 passengers are suing Spirit Cruises LLC, with claims ranging from $5,000 to $1 million. Court records indicate passengers suffered a variety of injuries, with the impact of the crash even throwing one passenger into a glass wall.

The owner of the ship filed what’s called a limitation of liability action, which allows a shipowner, under certain circumstances, to limit their liability to a limited amount of money, normally the value of the vessel after the incident. Sometimes the vessel has no value and there is a formula to make sure there is a minimum amount in the fund to pay for the claims. However, the point is that it is an archaic maritime law that protects shipowners when there is an accident, as it significantly reduces their exposure to pay for the damages that is caused by the incident.

When a shipowner files a limitation of liability action, a deadline is set by the court for all claims to be filed, and all the claims are handled in the same action, where the court determines whether the ship owner has a right to limit their liability. It is not an absolute right to limitation, as there are requirements that must be proved by the ship owner, and the claimants asserting a claim for damages can prove that the shipowner should not have the right to limit their liability if the facts support the argument. A maritime lawyer will address the rights to limitation of liability, and any arguments to overcome the asserted limitations, which include proving that the shipowner had knowledge or privity of the condition that resulted in the disaster or event.

In this incident, a limit of $1.8 million was set. Here, a maritime lawyer will try to prove that the shipowner had knowledge or privity of the negligence or unseaworthiness that resulted in the collision, which would defeat any limitation of liability attempt by the shipowner. This really is a law that should be wiped off the books as it has no necessity in the modern-day shipping industry.

Source: Spirit of Baltimore passengers sue after Coast Guard finds captain dozed before crash