More El Faro Families Settle

El Faro

By MarEx 2016-03-04 18:13:12

Four more families of El Faro crew members have reached a financial settlement with the vessel’s owners, bringing the total number of settlements so far to 14.

The El Faro sank in a hurricane October 1, 2015, after losing propulsion near the Bahamas on its way from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico. All 33 on board died.

On March 1, the families of crew members Jackie Robert Jones Jr., Dylan O. Meklin, Danielle Laura Rudolph and Michael Lee Holland each settled wrongful death lawsuits with TOTE Services for $500,000 each. The settlement includes pain and suffering and economic losses.

TOTE has issued a statement saying: “Since the loss of the El Faro, we have focused every effort on supporting the families of those on board. An important part of this support has entailed reaching fair and swift legal settlements for those who may choose them. We can confirm that we have settled financially with 14 families through a respectful and equitable mediation process. We stress that our support of all the families will continue. Out of respect for the legal process and the privacy of the families, we will not discuss the specifics of any individual legal actions.”

An attorney representing families of four El Faro crew members who have not settled has said families deserve more. Jason Itkin of Arnold & Itkin LLP, a Houston-based law firm, said in a statement: “If our senators and other politicians would do something about updating the ancient Limited Liability Act of 1851, TOTE would not have the power to put these grieving families in the difficult position of settling when they deserve so much more.”

Itkin’s practice represents the families of Anthony Shawn Thomas, Howard John Schoenly, Joe Edward Hargrove and German Cortes.

The families included in the initial settlement are the captain, five Polish crew members and four others: Michael Davidson (captain), Keith Griffin, Piotr Krause, Roan Lightfoot, Marcin Nita, Jan Podgorski, Richard Pusatere, Howard P. Schoenly, Andrej Truszkowski and Rafal Zdobych.

The latest settlements came after two weeks of U.S. Coast Guard hearings. Executives of Tote Services testified that ship captains have full responsibility for deciding when it is safe to sail and on setting the route.

Tote officials said it was Davidson’s call to depart Jacksonville with a storm brewing in the Atlantic, and said they were not closely monitoring the El Faro as the tropical storm strengthened into Hurricane Joaquin.

The hearing heard Davidson’s final calls to shore asking for help. He told an on-shore call center of a maritime emergency, saying water breached the hull, entering the number three hold. Soon afterwards, contact with the ship was broken. 

Davidson reported a loss of propulsion in his final communications, and the hearing has questioned TOTE officials and engineers at length regarding the state of her steam power plant.

The National Transportation Safety Board is resuming its search of the ship’s voyage data recorder in April. If found, it could provide more information about the vessel’s final moments.