The legal connection between the collapse of Baltimore’s Key Bridge and the sinking of the Titanic

In this aerial image released by the Maryland National Guard, the cargo ship Dali is stuck under part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Baltimore. (Maryland National Guard via AP)

This week, the two companies that own and operate the container ship that struck and brought down Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge are asking a federal judge to limit how much they’ll be on the hook for in connection with the tragedy.

Singapore-based Grace Ocean Private Ltd. owns the Dali ship and Synergy Marine Pte Ltd. manages the vessel, and together, the companies have asked a federal judge in Maryland to limit the damages they could have to pay to around $44 million, which is allowed under U.S. maritime law.

“Maritime law is different than any of the land-based law that most people are acquainted with,” said Attorney Todd Lochner, who specializes in maritime law in Annapolis.

He said the two companies that own and operate the ship are taking a play out of the owner of the Titanic’s book.

Lochner said the “Limitation of Liability Act of 1851” is the basis of the action, adding that it was created to encourage companies to move cargo.

“There really is a lack of interest for ship owners to take on such massive potential liability for such small amounts of money in the moving of cargo,” Lochner said.

The cap amount, according to Lochner, is based on the cost the companies say the damaged ship and its cargo are worth.

Lochner said if a judge approves the petition, there would also be a separate fund set up for the victims of the disaster, worth roughly $40 million.

“They get the benefit that the property interests would not necessarily have, in so much as they will get the benefit of $420 per ton for the deceased and injured,” Lochner said.

One other element of this, according to Lochner, is the action stops all lawsuits against the companies in connection with the disaster and directs those cases to the federal court in Baltimore, which is handling the limitation action.

The judge must first approve the action, and that involves a convincing case being made by the ship’s owner and management.

“They have to be able to show that they lacked privity or knowledge of the circumstance which caused casualty,” Lochner said.

He said this is all part of the start to years of court battles over damages in connection to the collapse.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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