The owner, operator and charterer of the container ship that struck Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge on Tuesday (Mar 26) are likely to face lawsuits over its collapse and the people killed or injured, but legal experts say US maritime law could limit the companies’ liability.

US laws pertaining to open-water navigation and shipping, which are created through court decisions and by acts of Congress, could restrict the kinds of lawsuits filed against the registered owner of the Singapore-flagged ship, Grace Ocean Pte Ltd, its manager Synergy Marine Group and its charterer Maersk, and could limit the damages they would have to pay, three legal experts told Reuters.

Representatives for Synergy and Maersk declined to comment on the potential for litigation. Efforts to reach a spokesperson for Grace Ocean were not successful.

The economic damages suffered by the city of Baltimore from the closure of the port, the busiest port for car shipments in the US, or by businesses that rely on it and the now-collapsed bridge would not be recoverable through lawsuits, said Martin Davies, director of the Maritime Law Center at Tulane University School of Law.

That’s because US courts have interpreted a 1927 US Supreme Court ruling to mean that any purely economic damages from maritime incidents can’t be recovered from the ship’s owners and operators, Davies and other experts said.

Instead, lawsuits would be limited to injuries, death and property damage or losses, such as claims from the people harmed by the collapse or claims over the damage to the bridge itself, likely brought by government entities.

The lawsuits are likely to be filed in federal court, the experts said. The plaintiffs may also ask a federal judge to “arrest” the ship, and prevent it from leaving the jurisdiction while the litigation plays out, they said.


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