El Faro family attorney urges lawmakers to update maritime law limiting liability

The U.S. Coast Guard recovered this life ring Sunday after spotting it Saturday only minutes before suspending the search for the night.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Those who lost loved ones aboard El Faro will have to endure what could be a lengthy legal battle.

The cargo ship sank off the coast of the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin in October.

Lawyers representing families of the crew members, including Houston-based attorney Kurt Arnold, who represents four families, have filed claims to try and block Tote Maritime's motion to limit the company's liability.

“It's trying to limit the amount to about $400,000 per family, which I just don't think is right,” said Arnold.

Arnold said Tote filed a petition for protection under the Limited Liability Act of 1851, which he called an antiquated law.

“All it does is save insurance companies money,” said Arnold.

Arnold is urging lawmakers, especially Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, to change the law.

According to Nelson’s press secretary, Nelson has criticized Tote in the past on the Senate floor.

EL FARO | Recent stories | Crew | Wreckage found

“The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) only just found the ship with the help of the U.S. Navy and yet somehow the company is able to definitely declare that they weren't at fault and they bear no responsibility for the loss. It seems this is an attempt to limit any liability of the company,” Nelson said on the Senate floor in November.

But Arnold believes more could be done.

“If you're really serious about what you say, like we want to make sure this never happens again, we really ought to take away these silly protections,” said Arnold.

Nelson’s representative said that many people have suggested they look into changing the law, but right now their focus is figuring out what happened.

Families have until Feb. 19 to file a claim for compensation against Tote.

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