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The Liability of Crashing into a Bridge

— March 27, 2024

As time passes and more information comes to light about the Key Bridge collapse, the responsible party or parties will have to deal with consequences as victims and their families undoubtedly start suing for compensation.

Unthinkable tragedies are only unthinkable until they happen. Take what occurred recently in Baltimore when a cargo ship lost power and ran directly into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing its collapse. How can you ever figure out who’s to blame for something as complicated as that?

You can start by looking at what we know so far about the iconic bridge, the cargo ship Dali, and the response from authorities. It looks like the bridge was in good shape before the ship hit it, having gotten a fair rating during its last federal inspection just a few years ago. The ship is another story. It lost power after leaving the Port of Baltimore and collided into the Key Bridge. Authorities responded promptly and stopped more cars from entering the bridge.

An investigation into the cause of the accident is still underway, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think someone in connection to the ship, like the captain, owner, or a crew member had something to do with the incident. Navigating the complicated waters that are the potential liability of this tragedy requires the expertise of a Baltimore personal injury attorney.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse: What We Know So Far 

Since there are so many victims of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse and so many families seeking answers for their loved one’s deaths, who is at fault matters. While we don’t know everything about what caused this recent catastrophe in Baltimore yet, we do know a bit, some of which could indicate liability.

The Bridge

Before its collapse in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 26, 2024, the Key Bridge stood for nearly 50 years. It arched over the Patapsco River and served as a vital roadway for travelers along I-695. It got inspected regularly, every two years to be exact, and even received a fair rating at its last federal inspection.

When the collapse happened, construction workers were performing repairs on the bridge. That doesn’t mean that you can point the finger at them, since they were focused on repairing potholes, nothing that could compromise the bridge’s structural integrity to the point of collapse. Sadly, several construction workers even fell into the water when the cargo ship hit the bridge, some of whom are still unaccounted for at this time.

The Cargo Ship

Take one look at the footage from the incident, and it almost appears like the cargo ship was making a beeline for one of the Key Bridge’s structural supports. Almost immediately after the ship left the Port of Baltimore, its crew issued a mayday call, letting authorities know that it had a power issue.

This is where many people still want to know what happened. Why didn’t the crew know about the power problem sooner? Did they wait too long to contact authorities? Were there signs that the ship wasn’t seaworthy on earlier voyages?

Hopefully, victims’ families won’t have to wait too long to find the answers to these questions, as they could ultimately indicate who is at fault for the collapse.

The Response from Authorities

It’s also worth looking into the response from authorities. Because the ship issued a mayday call when it did, authorities had time to stop even more drivers from entering the Key Bridge, saving lives. Had authorities failed to do this, you might be able to argue that they didn’t uphold their duty of care and contributed to the damage caused by the accident. Even now, first responders continue to search Patapsco River for several victims who are still missing. [Editor’s note: Given the nature and severity of this disaster, it is likely that there will have been further updates to the story by the time this piece is published.]

The Consequences of Crashing into a Bridge

As time passes and more information comes to light about the Key Bridge collapse, the responsible party or parties will have to deal with consequences as victims and their families undoubtedly start suing for compensation.

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The financial consequences of crashing into a bridge are going to be severe, there’s no denying it. For example, say a ship hits a bridge, hurting lots of victims. Now, let’s also say that the company that owns that ship knew about its defects and told its crew to set sail anyway. Because that level of negligence might constitute gross negligence, the jury might award the victim punitive damages.

If any party involved in the Key Bridge collapse, or any bridge collapse for that matter, acted with gross negligence, a victim with reason to bring a claim could recover punitive damages in Maryland. Since this disaster has affected so many people’s lives, juries might be more inclined to make an example out of those responsible for the Key Bridge collapse.

Once liability for this tragedy becomes clear, victims and their families can seek recovery through civil litigation. Although the financial and reputational consequences might be considerable for whoever is to blame for the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, that’s nothing compared to the unthinkable trauma victims and their families are forced to experience.

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