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Owner, manager of Dali attempt to limit Baltimore crash liability to $43.7m

The owner and manager of container ship Dali – Singapore-based Grace Ocean Pte and Singapore-based Synergy Marine have filed a federal suit to limit to $43.7m its liability for the allision that destroyed Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge. The petition also denies responsibility for the accident. The petition, which relies on the US Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 (LOLA), was expected. LOLA allows the shipowner to restrict its total liability to no more than the post-accident value of the vessel, plus the value of pending freight. It is a standard starting point for litigation over a marine casualty in the US.

Grace Ocean and Synergy’s first line of defence in the petition was to deny that they or the vessel had any responsibility for hitting the Key Bridge. The second line was that, if there were any faults with the vessel, they had no “privity or knowledge” of such faults beforehand. This is a key phrase, as the Act only protects a shipowner if the accident occurred “without the privity or knowledge of the owner”.

Legal opinion at the moment is that the dispute over the level of liability could focus on whether the owner might have known about a causal factor behind the accident. If that could be proven, it would allow a judge to “break” the limitation of liability, and the plaintiffs (which would likely including the US government) would be able to pursue damage claims against the owner and insurers that will more reflect the economic loss as a result of the incident.

Grace Ocean’s petition also proposed that all litigation be consolidated in Baltimore’s federal court, and tat there should be a September 24th 2024 filing deadline for all claims.