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Attorneys Expect Baltimore Key Bridge Collapse Lawsuits

Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Early in the morning of March 26, 2024, a massive cargo ship “Dali” collided with a support pillar of the Francis Scott Key Bridge (a steel truss bridge) in Baltimore, Maryland, triggering a catastrophic collapse. The Baltimore bridge collapse, which occurred at approximately 1:27 a.m. local time, sent multiple vehicles and people into the Patapsco River. Six people working construction on the bridge died in the collapse.

Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation immediately after the incident. Other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Transportation, Maryland Department of Transportation, and other state and local agencies will aid in the investigation.

According to reports, the crew of the Dali issued a distress signal noting a catastrophic loss of power moments before the 984-foot cargo ship collided with the Key Bridge. Video footage of the incident shows that internal and upper deck lights on the bridge of the ship flicked on and off at least twice before the collision, which suggests a sudden loss of power that was restarted with the activation of the ship’s on-board emergency generator. Propulsion, however, could not be re-established.

The six who died in the collapse have been identified as construction workers with Brawner Builders. They were working to fill potholes in the middle of the bridge when the collision occurred. While there was early speculation of terrorism, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said there was no credible evidence to suggest the collapse was caused by terrorism.

What Caused the Baltimore Bridge Collapse?

It will likely take a year or more before the NTSB issues a report on the cause of the Key Bridge collapse. An inspection of the bridge last year found that that it was in “fair” condition. The bridge was known to be “fracture critical,” which meant it was built without redundancy and was subject to collapse upon substantial impact. The collapse could affect the entirety of the bridge, or only a portion. The Francis Scott Key Bridge is one of 17,400 “fracture critical” bridges in use in the United States, out of a total of 615,000 bridges currently in use.

In the aftermath of the container ship collision, concerns were raised about the possibilities of fuel contamination, which may explain the sudden loss of power and/or mechanical failure. A previous inspection conducted last year noted issues with the “propulsion and auxiliary machinery,” specifically related to thermometers and gauges. Nevertheless, the cargo ship departed from Baltimore bound for Sri Lanka.

Bridge collapse attorneys from Wisner Baum believe that lawsuits are likely after the Baltimore collapse, one of the worst in recent history. “If there was a mechanical failure, maintenance failure, and/or negligence on the part of the owner and operator of the Dali, there will be viable claims for the families of the victims,” says accident attorney Timothy A. Loranger. “While it is far too early to speculate on the cause, we will be following the NTSB investigation closely. Our heartfelt condolences to the families of those Brawner Builders construction workers who lost their lives.”

Clay Robbins III, an attorney who has litigated numerous cases involving maritime law, says other entities may be implicated in lawsuits, depending on the outcome of the government’s investigation. This could include fueling entities, ship manufacturer personnel, as well as state and local governments involved in the ownership, design, inspection and maintenance of the bridge itself.

“It is unclear whether, and if so how, the city of Baltimore or the Port Authority would have responsibility for the deaths caused by this tragedy,” Robbins told Law360 in an interview about the Baltimore bridge collapse. “Much will depend upon what agencies received information about the ship-issued 'mayday' and how they responded to that information," Robbins added. "The responsibility of the port could also hang on whether the pilots had any involvement in the ship's operations, safety checks, or post-malfunction notifications other than directing the vessel out of port. The precarious nature of the bridge’s susceptibility to collapse is also an issue. Also, questions exist concerning how the bridge’s support columns could have been fortified against a foreseeable incident, such as an impact from a loaded container ship.”

Who Were the Victims of the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse?

On March 27, 2024, officials from the U.S. Coast Guard concluded that the six men who disappeared in the water following the Key Bridge collapse had died. While the victims were not publicly identified in the immediate aftermath, state department officials confirmed that the deceased were citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Media reports citing posts on social media have identified the following victims of the collapse:

Miguel Luna: A husband and father of three originally from El Salvador, Luna had lived in Maryland for over 19 years.

Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval: Honduras’ migrant protection service identified Sandoval the day after the bridge collapse in Baltimore. His brother told the national media that he was informed of his brother’s disappearance hours after the collapse. Sandoval had lived in the U.S. for 18 years and had a wife and two children.

Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes: Officials announced on March 28, 2024 that they had recovered Mr. Fuentes’ body, which was trapped in a red pickup truck. Fuentes was a 35-year-old Mexican national who lived in Baltimore.

Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera: A 26-year-old native of Guatemala who lived in Dundalk, Cabrera was also found by divers in the red pickup truck with Fuentes.

Jose López: Originally from Guatemala, López lived in the Baltimore area and was married with two children, a boy and a girl.

A former Brawner Builders employee, Jesus Campos, told local media that the deceased men were all young—in their thirties and forties—who leave behind spouses and children. “They are all hardworking, humble men,” he added.

Details About the Dali Cargo Ship

The Dali is a 984-foot cargo ship that flies a Singapore flag. The vessel was operated by Synergy Marine Group, and at the time of the Francis Scott Key bridge collapse, chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk. The Dali was leaving Baltimore on its way to Sri Lanka when it experienced a “complete blackout” and lost power to its engine and navigation equipment minutes before colliding with the bridge. The ship never regained power.

Last June, an inspection of the ship in Chile found "deficiencies" in its propulsion and auxiliary machinery, including gauges and thermometers. Subsequent inspections in New York in September of 2023 did not reveal any deficiencies.

In 2016, the Dali was involved in an accident at the port of Antwerp. The cargo ship collided with a quay while attempting to exit the North Sea container terminal. A subsequent inspection found a structural issue with the vessel, described as “hull damage impairing its seaworthiness.”

How Often Do Bridges Collapse?

Between 1960 and 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses around the world due to ship or barge crashes, which resulted in 342 fatalities. Eighteen of these major bridge collapses occurred in the U.S.

The most serious collapse in the U.S. after a ship or barge collision was the Sunshine Skyway bridge collapse in Tampa Bay, Florida, which killed 35 people in 1980.

Other recent bridge collapses in the U.S. caused by ships or barges:

  • Queen Isabella Causeway Bridge Collapse (Texas, 2001) which killed 8 people
  • I-40 Bridge Collapse (Oklahoma, 2002) which killed 13 people
  • Popps Ferry Bridge Collapse (Mississippi, 2009)

There is evidence that the Francis Scott Key Bridge had previously been struck by a ship, without incident.

Bridge Collapse Attorneys with Billions in Verdicts and Settlements Across All Practice Areas

The attorneys at Wisner Baum have been litigating bridge collapse lawsuits for decades. Our proven track record in these cases goes back to 1989 when we were retained to represent clients following the Hatchie River incident, one of the worst bridge collapses in U.S. history.

Our bridge collapse attorneys understand what it takes to win cases against major corporations. We have the experience and resources needed to vindicate your legal rights and maximize compensation for our clients. We represent clients on a contingency fee basis, which means we only make money if we are successful in earning compensation for you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.


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