The Crash of the Staten Island Ferry
The crash of the Staten Island Ferry (“The
Andrew J. Barberi”) at the St. George Terminal in Staten Island on
Saturday, May 8, 2010, is the second accident of this same vessel in the past
seven years. The City of New York owns and operates the ferry and the St.
George Terminal docking facility, personal injury victims will have only 90
days to file a Notice of Claim against the city stating, among other things,
the nature of their claim and injuries sustained (NY General Municipal Law Sec.
If Notices of Claims are not filed by August 6, 2010, personal injury victims may lose their legal right to recover for their injuries.
Members of the crew and other employees of the Staten Island Ferry who were injured may have legal remedies outside of Worker’s Compensation benefits and should discuss this with an attorney before agreeing to accept such benefits as doing so may act as a waiver of their legal rights.
Kreindler & Kreindler LLP is investigating the crash and will be ready to answer any questions regarding the legal rights of the victims. While the National Transportation Safety Board and the United States Coast Guard will be investigating the crash, it is extremely unlikely that their investigation will be complete before the victims will have to file Notices of Claims to preserve their legal rights.
Kreindler & Kreindler LLP is still representing a claimant from the October 15, 2003 crash of the Staten Island Ferry whose case recently went to trial.
Legal Causes of Action
As the owner and operator of the ferry, the city is responsible for its safe operation. This includes the safe piloting of the vessel, i.e., maintaining safe speed and control of the vessel under the circumstances. Under the legal concept of respondeat superior, the city is liable for the conduct of its employees that occurs in furtherance of the city’s business purpose. See Sauter v. New York Tribune, 305 N.Y. 442 (1953). In this case, the city would be responsible for the conduct of the crew of the Barberi.
The city will also be liable for the conduct of other crew members who had a duty to monitor the developing dangerous situation and intervene at the appropriate time.
If the investigation reveals that one of the vessel’s systems malfunctioned, there may be an additional basis for a claim against New York City if the malfunction was related to the maintenance or repair of that system by the city. If the system failed as a result of its manufacture or design, there may be claims available against the manufacturer/designer of that system.
For instance, early reports indicated that the steering system may have malfunctioned. From our representation of claimants arising from the 2003 ferry crash, we are very familiar with the Barberi’s steering system. The system is called a “Voith Schneider Propeller” and is very complex. It works by having its blades hang straight down in the water. These blades rotate to create momentum and pivot individually to provide direction, essentially acting as their own rudder. To the extent it malfunctioned, there may be claims against its manufacturer/designer, Voith Turbo of Germany.
Limitation of Liability
New York City may try to take advantage of a maritime defense called “Limitation of Liability.” Under this legal doctrine, the city could contend that its liability is limited to the value of the vessel, which may be significantly less than the aggregate of the personal injury claims. While difficult, this defense can be defeated by showing the city’s privity and knowledge of the dangerous condition.
In this case, for instance, by showing that the crew did not follow city procedures and the city knew or should have known that was occurring; or that the city did not have suitable policies and procedures in place for operating or maintaining the ferry; or that the city did not use diligence in selecting, training or monitoring the crew members or repair personnel. Should the city choose to claim a Limitation of Liability, the issue will surely be hotly litigated.
Clearly, there are many factual and legal issues that remain to be resolved. Given, however, the legal requirement to file a Notice of Claim, it is critical that victims and their families obtain immediate and competent legal advice. Kreindler & Kreindler LLP has handled numerous maritime cases over the past 50 years and has litigated many cases against the City. We stand ready to answer any questions regarding the legal rights of the victims or their families.
Photo Credit: Staten Island Ferry by Doug Letterman