NEWARK — A Monmouth County man who suffered back injuries in the Jan. 9 collision of the SeaStreak ferry Wall Street, is the first to file a claim against the ferry company.
But victims’ claims could be heard by a maritime court, rather than a civil court, under a court action field by SeaStreak in U.S District Court in Newark, which could limit or exonerate the company from liability in the accident.
Attorney Andrew V. Buchsbaum of Morganville filed the first lawsuit Sunday on behalf of an injured passenger, Desmond Sullivan in U.S. Federal Court.
The crash injured 57 people, after the New York bound ferry struck Pier 11 as it was docking. The accident is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Capt. Jason Reimer told NTSB investigators that two sets of controls did not respond when he tried to reverse thrust as the ferry was approaching the pier.
The NTSB hasn’t ruled on an official cause for the accident.
Attorneys for SeaStreak filed papers on Saturday in U.S. District Court seeking relief under maritime law to limit damages to the $7.6 million value of the vessel Wall Street or to rule that the company has no liability.
Such a ruling forces passengers to file a claim in federal court, rather than in Superior Court in their home county, said Attorney John James, a partner in Friedman, James & Buchsbaum LLP. Injured passengers also wouldn’t be able to ask for a jury trial, he said.
“They’re not entitled to a jury in a maritime case. Normally they’d go to Freehold, file a complaint and demand a jury trial,” James said. “By going to federal court, it’s under the admiralty of maritime jurisdiction.”
Passengers would have until May 16 to file a claim. The maritime law dates to 1851 and limits liability for injuries or cargo damaged or lost to the value of the vessel, Buchsbaum said.
“The passenger deadline is May 16, by federal court order … they must file by May 16 or they have no claim,” Buchsbaum said. “That same order exempts passengers from filing a claim anywhere else.”