Who will pay for the replacement of Baltimore’s Key Bridge?

The Dali’s Bridge Case in Maryland: A Case Study in the 1980 Sunshine Skyway Bridge Disaster Using the Limitation of Liability Act

Legal experts think that the owner and insurers will likely pay a lot of money for the ship. And Maryland will probably recoup at least some of the cost of a new bridge.

In video footage of the impact, the Dali’s lights flicker off and on multiple times, for unknown reasons, before the ship struck the bridge.

It is a very unusual circumstance. Martin Davies, director of the maritime law center at Tulane University in New Orleans, said that how the law will apply here is well established. The difference won’t be the amount of money at stake.

The closest historical precedent for the Key Bridge’s collapse may be the Sunshine Skyway Bridge disaster. In 1980, a phosphate carrier slammed into a support pier, causing a 1,200-foot span of the bridge to collapse into Tampa Bay, killing 35 people.

The ship’s owner is trying to cap how much it pays under a law known as the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 that has been used many times before, including by the owner of the Titanic.

When there are questions about whether the ship was seaworthy, U.S. courts rarely allow vessel owners to limit their liability. And in the Dali’s case, there are very big questions about that.

“Given the circumstances in this case, I’d be astonished if a federal court judge in Maryland were to conclude that the shipowner could limit its liability,” he said.

The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jennifer Homendy, told a Senate committee in April that investigators are focusing on the ship’s electrical systems and circuit breakers.

“We have had the manufacturer of equipment in the engine room to look closely at the electrical power system. We’re continuing to look at that,” Homendy said. “Our focus is at that point, right now.”

The Case of MV Summit Venture: A Case Study in the 2005 Cosco Busan Bridge Instability Retorted by a Hurricane

The circumstances around that crash were very different, however. The ship, known as the MV Summit Venture, didn’t lose power. It was driven off course by a storm.

The lawyer for Lerro said that the force of nature was unpredicted. “Hurricane-force winds that came and went within minutes,” he told NPR.

In 2007, the Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The ship spilled a lot of fuel oil into the bay despite minor damage to the bridge. The owner and operator of the ship agreed to pay $44 million to clean up the environment.

The buck stops with the owner of the ship, as was implied by the remarks of a lawyer who represented cargo insurers in the case.

But Huber says there’s another reason the ship’s owner would do that: It gets lawyers for the government and the parties together in one place to start negotiating a settlement.

“If I needed to read the tea leaves, I would say there would be a final settlement by agreement,” he said. It’s going to take a while to fight some of the fights.

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