The first South Florida lawsuit against the owner of EL FARO, the cargo ship that sunk in Hurricane Joaquin last month, was filed on October 28, 2015 in Broward County Circuit Court. This latest lawsuit claims EL FARO's engine failure and loss of power on October 1st followed many years of lax maintenance. The lawsuit also claims EL FARO was not seaworthy in that the ship was undergoing "significant maintenance" just before it left port September 29th and had a history of losing power.
The lawsuit was brought by the widow of Anthony Thomas who seeks damages for herself and for the couple's five children, ages 8 to 29. The lawsuit states the Fort Lauderdale court has jurisdiction because Tote Maritime's registered agent is in Plantation.
In the limitation of liability lawsuit filed by the shipowner, Tote Maritime claimed it should not be required to pay more than about $15.2 million in total damages for losses related to the shipwreck found near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. The company claims its liability is limited under the limitation of liability act to a death claims fund of $420 per gross registered ton, or $13.2 million, with another $2 million for the freight aboard the ship. The company also asked U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis to issue an injunction against the prosecution of future lawsuits.
The Broward County lawsuit was removed to federal court and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch. However, because there are two similar lawsuits filed in Jacksonville, one in federal court and one in Duval Circuit Court and because wrongful death claims cannot proceed until the limitation court has resolved the limitation action, it is likely that Tote Maritime will move to consolidate all the actions in Jacksonville.
According to this latest complaint, the U.S. Coast Guard documented 23 deficiencies with EL FARO Faro since 2003. The 40-year-old ship also allegedly lost power and propulsion during a 2011 voyage due to faulty equipment.
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