June 24, 2013

The cruise ship
Carnival Triumph made headlines
when it lost power in the Gulf of Mexico in February
2013 as a result of an engine room fire. As a result
of that accident, the ship was taken to BAE Systems
shipyard in Alabama. On April 3, 2013, a storm hit
and caused the vessel to break free from its
moorings. After drifting in the Mobile River, the
101,000 ton vessel collided with another vessel and
sustained a 20 foot long gash in its stern. According
to the Press Register, Carnival cruise line is blaming
Mobile’s BAE Systems and other entities for $12
million dollars worth of damages. The lawsuit
alleges that the moorings at the shipyard were
defective. (Carnival Sues Shipyard That Took in
Triumph, Gene Sloan; USA Today June 18, 2013) In
general, when a collision occurs on the water
between two vessels, a theory that is often raised is
negligence. This means that a duty of care existed,
that there was a breach of that duty of care,
damages or injuries arose, and that the breach of
duty was the proximate cause of the damages or
injuries. Negligence is one of the most commonly
raised theories in cruise ship accidents, boating
accidents, or Jones Act claims.

An August 2010 decision from the 5th Circuit Court
of Appeals addressed an accident involving another
Carnival cruise ship, the
Carnival Fantasy. In Combo
Maritime, Inc. v. U.S. United Bulk Terminal, LLC, the
federal court judge identified distinctions between
vessels that are steaming, moored, or adrift. The
vessel Combo Maritime vessel Alkman was at
anchor in the Mississippi River. It was struck by
barges that broke loose from United Bulk Terminal’s
moorings. Combo Maritime sued United for
damages, and United sued Carnival Cruise Line. It
alleged the cruise ship
Carnival Fantasy was
steaming too close to United’s fleeting area at full
speed.

Carnival made a motion for partial summary
judgment. This meant that it claimed there were no
disputes regarding the facts, and that it was entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. This was based on a
Supreme Court decision called The Louisiana, which
held that in a maritime collision or allision where a
drifting vessel was involved, a presumption arises
that the drifting vessel is liable for damages.

The federal district court ruled for Carnival. United
Bulk Terminal and Combo settled their respective
claims. Upon appeal, the appellate court didn’t agree
with the lower court’s decision. An important issue
arose that there a presumption of fault is placed on
a moving vessel in allisions. Another important issue
was that a presumption of fault is placed on a vessel
when its wake causes damage to a moored vessel.
The appellate court reversed the lower court’s
decision in favor of Carnival and remanded the case
back to the lower court for further proceedings.

To read the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision,
click
here.



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