As a general rule, ferry accidents are more frequent, and more severe, in second- and third-world countries, where severe overcrowding goes hand in hand with lax safety regulations. But major ferry accidents can also occur in the U.S., as witness the crash in 2003 of New York’s famous Staten Island Ferry. Eleven people were killed in this disaster and dozens more seriously injured; it was later determined that the ship’s captain had been taking over-the-counter painkillers and was too drowsy to properly operate the vessel. As a result, the City of New York has already paid out over $50 million in damages to victims and their families, and some lawsuits are still unresolved through the court system.
Passengers injured in ferry accidents have recourse to recover damages under mainland U.S. civil tort law, while crew members may be able to recover under the Jones Act.
The owners, and captains of ferries are legally responsible for providing safe transport for their passengers. The vessels should be regularly inspected for leaks or mechanical failures, all equipment (including steering, brake and alarm systems) should be kept in top-notch operating condition, and the ship should contain enough personal flotation devices to accommodate all passengers and crew in the event of a serious accident. The captain also has a duty not to navigate his ship safely, free from reckless or negligent behavior such as exceeding safe speed limits in order to keep the ferry on a predetermined schedule.
A ferry boat be in good physical condition and attention must also be paid to ensure the safety of crew and passengers. No ferry should take on more passengers than the legal limit (this is why ferry disasters in other countries often result in hundreds of fatalities), or more vehicles, if the vessel is used to transport cars. The ferry’s crew should be properly trained, and the boat itself should be adequately crewed. If a ferry accident results from a vessel having an insufficient number of crew members, that, in itself, can be grounds for a lawsuit.
In smaller locations, it may sometimes be the case that an improperly equipped or unsuitable vessel has been pressed into ferry service, or one that can’t safely accommodate multiple passengers, or one that hasn’t even been licensed or inspected by the authorities. If lax oversight by government institutions can be shown to be a contributing cause of a ferry accident, you may be entitled to recover damages from the municipality itself, in addition to the ferry’s owner, captain or crew.
Ferry crew members will often be covered by the Jones Act (a century-old piece of legislation that extends mainland liability laws to maritime employees.) There are many ways in which a ferry crew member can be injured in an accident—not only the obvious (crashing into the dock, falling overboard) but also in ways particular to the ferry lifestyle (say, being crushed between two improperly secured cars)
If you have been injured in a ferry boat accident, whether your case falls under maritime law or civil law, our lawyers can help. If you lost a loved one in a fatal accident involving a ferry, our attorneys can help you get civil justice and compensation. Call today, or email us, to arrange for a free initial legal consultation to learn more about your rights and the best approach in taking legal action against any parties who can be held accountable for your loss.