Judge refuses to declare El Faro unseaworthy

US District Judge Harvey Schlesinger of the US federal court has refused to declare that the 790ft El Faro, which sank during a hurricane last October 1st after losing propulsion, was “unseaworthy”.

All 33 crew members died when the El Faro sank; members of their families have been taking legal action since then against Tote Services Inc and Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, the owners and operators of the vessel.

Last week the companies settled with two more families – relatives of Theodore Quammie of Jacksonville and Steven Shultz of Roan Mountain, Tennessee — of the 33 crew members who died when the ship went down almost a year ago during a hurricane, bringing to a close 23 of the 33 wrongful-death claims.

Tote has reached a “full and final settlement” with each estate for $500,000 “for all non-pecuniary (pre-death pain and suffering) damages” plus an undisclosed “agreed upon amount for pecuniary (economic losses) damages covering the Estate’s full economic loss,” according to a court filing by the company.

Tote reached an agreement with 10 families in January and has announced a number of settlements since then.

Tote asks in its court filings for the settlements to act as credit against its ultimate liability, which it wants capped at about $15m. That limit is based on a 19th century law.

Judge Schlesinger set May 2018 as the court date when it will be decided whether to limit the company’s liability. The remaining litigants had wanted a 2017 trial date, while Tote had wanted to delay the trial until 2019.

Tote said that it had settled most claims against it by companies that had lost cargo. Judge Schlesinger agreed that the outstanding claims should go to mediation by December 15th 2016.

The National Transportation Safety Board and US Coast Guard continue to investigate the sinking.