Sunken Cargo Ship Owners Settle 17 Claims in Dispute

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The owners of the S.S. El Faro, a cargo ship that sank near the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, have settled 17 claims brought by a variety of companies and the families of some of the crew members who died, according to documents filed Tuesday in Florida federal court.

Sea Star Line LLC, doing business as Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, reached agreements with Kraft Food Group Inc., Foot Locker Inc., Tyson Foods Inc., Caterpillar Americas CV and other companies whose cargo was on the ship, as well as with the families of Jeremie H. Riehm and Carey Hatch, who were among the 33 people who died when the ship sank. No additional details about the settlements were immediately available.

Earlier this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Monte C. Richardson refused to disqualify Arnold & Itkin LLP from representing widows bringing wrongful death claims on behalf of their husbands who died when the ship sank.

Tote Maritime and Tote Services Inc. had argued that the three women were all seeking pieces of the same pie because the court had approved a limited liability fund preventing the prosecution of claims. Judge Richardson, however, agreed with the women that the issue of how the fund applies to them is still being litigated.

The judge also agreed with the women in finding that the motion to disqualify the firm may have been made in bad faith, because the Tote entities had known of the firm’s representation of all three since December 2015 but didn’t complain until January 2017, showing the move was likely strategic.

After the El Faro sank in October 2015, after reportedly enduring 140-mile-per-hour winds and 50-foot waves caused by Hurricane Joaquin, the Tote entities were accused of causing the accident due to negligence and were sued in state and federal court.

In response, the owners filed a limitation of liability action in Florida federal court, claiming that they’d done everything they needed to do to ensure the ship was ready for its voyage, including ensuring the crew was properly trained and the vessel appropriately equipped.

Dozens of claimants, including the crew’s families, insurers and companies, sought damages related to the incident, with many estate representatives also hitting Tote with counterclaims. The families have argued that the owners can’t claim they aren’t liable after sending El Faro into the hurricane’s path despite knowing the ship was in disrepair and overloaded.

Last year, the Tote entities settled a number of other claims.

None of the parties could be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The Tote entities are represented by George D. Gabel Jr., Suzanne M. Judas, Jennifer L. Kifer, Timothy J. Conner, Lawrence J. Hamilton II, Chester D. Hooper, Michael A. Delulis and Vincent J. Foley of Holland & Knight LLP; Jerry Dean Hamilton, Robert B. Birthisel, William F. Clair, Karina Cerda Collazo, Jules V. Massee and Michael J. Dono of Hamilton Miller & Birthisel LLP; and Allan R. Kelley of Fowler White Burnett PA.

The companies whose claims were dismissed Tuesday are represented by Lindsey Brock of Rumrell McLeod & Brock PLLC.

The families are represented by Stephen J. Pajcic III, Thomas F. Slater, William S. Burns Jr., Benjamin E. Richard and Michael S. Pajcic of Pajcic & Pajcic PA.

The case is In the Matter of the Complaint of Sea Star Line LLC et al., case number 3:15-cv-01297, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

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Source: Law360

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