The fishing vessel Sara Jo capsized and sank on January 26, 2016 while crossing Oregon’s treacherous Coos Bay bar. The vessel reportedly lost power as it was crossing the bar resulting in loss of steerage which lead to flooding of the vessel in the high seas. The Captain issued a mayday and the three crewman aboard the vessel were able to get into survival suits before abandoning the Sara Jo.
Raymond Cardosa died in the accident, and crewman David Schellong and captain David Williams narrowly escaped death. Williams and Schellong were rescued from the water by Coast Guard rescue boats. A week prior to the Sara Jo’s sinking the crab boat Eagle Three also sank while trying to cross the bar. Three crewmen died in the sinking of the Eagle Three.
On July 26, 2016, the owner of the Sara Jo filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court located in Portland Oregon, Case No. 3:16-CV-01512. The lawsuit commonly referred to as a Petition for Limitation of or Exoneration from Liability seeks to prohibit the family of Cardosa and surviving crew of the vessel from holding the owner responsible for Cardosa’s death and the crew’s injuries.
In the Limitation proceeding that has been filed, the owner of the Sara Jo, Lonie Baldridge, claims the vessel was “tight, staunch, strong and fit for service’ and in all respect a seaworthy vessel. Baldridge lawsuit claims the sinking of the Sara Jo was “neither caused nor contributed to in any fashion by his fault, neglect or want of due care and that the cause of the vessel sinking was occasioned without his privity and knowledge”. Baldridge claims the value of the Sara Jo to be zero, and that the family of Cardosa and the injured crew should receive no compensation.
Claimants who have claims against the Sara Jo are required to file answer and claims controverting Baldridge’s allegations by September 26, 2016.
The Limitation of Liability Act, 46 USC 3051 et. seq. is law passed nearly 150 years ago in days of sailing ships. Commentators as well as Federal Judges have questioned the continued need for the Limitation of Liability Act.
Petitions for Limitation and Exoneration from Liability are frequently filed in Alaska Fishing boat sinking cases. These actions at least temporarily move the cases out of the State Court system where jury trials are available in maritime wrongful death claims and Jones Act injury claims. In Limitation of Liability Act cases vessel owners frequently argue that the cause of the casualty was the operational negligence of the captain over which they could have no control from their position as a shoreside owner.
A Limitation of Liability Act case can be defeated by the injured crewman showing that the vessel left dock in an unseaworthy condition, and that the owner of the vessel knew or should have known about the unseaworthy or unfit condition of the vessel. It is incumbent upon a vessel owner to enforce safety rules and safety policies to protect their crewmen from injury.
Actions filed under the Limitation of Liability Act present complex factual and legal questions. Experienced maritime injury lawyers should be consulted as soon as possible in any case involving a Petition for Limitation of Liability. Failure to file a timely claim may bar your right to damages for wrongful death or personal