Is the Sunshine Bridge lawsuit worthy of class-action status?

A maritime allision between a boat and the Sunshine Bridge in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, raises questions as to who may receive compensation under maritime law. The crane barge, operated by an employee of Marquette Transportation Company, caused more than $5 million dollars of damage to the bridge. As a result, the bridge will be closed for nearly four months, and the frequent traversers of it are forced to extend each commute by at least an hour. The inconvenience thrust upon these local residents is tangible, but do they have a legal argument for compensation? Unfortunately, and perhaps unjustly, current maritime case law may not in their favor.

In the case Taira Lynn Marine Limited Number 5 v. Jays Seafood, Inc. et al., the primary issue is whether claimants who suffered no physical damage to a proprietary interest can recover for their economic losses as a result of a maritime allision. The case revolves around a 2001 incident in which a barge allided with a bridge, releasing toxic gasses into the air. As a result, the Louisiana State Police ordered a mandatory evacuation of all businesses and residence within a certain radius of the bridge, including fourteen businesses who made commercial use of the bridge and subsequently suffered economic loss. Though these businesses filed claims for compensation, the court ruled that “there can be no recovery for economic loss absent physical injury to a proprietary interest.”

In the case involving the Sunshine Bridge and Marquette Transportation, it is clear that the State of Louisiana has a right to compensation as the owner of the physically damaged bridge. It seems, however, that according to Taira Lynn that the local residents do not have such a right, though, according to sources, what was once a 90-second drive across the Mississippi River has turned into a 90-minute, 50-mile detour, costing drivers both time and money. In fact, local schools have had to adjust their start times to accommodate students who are simply unable to arrive at such an early hour due to the bridge’s closure. These affected citizens certainly do not have any ownership of the bridge, but in the interest of justice, this should not disqualify them from being compensated for their economic loss.

Using the language of Taira Lynn, it is correct that they suffered no physical injury to a direct proprietary interest, but they suffered serious, unavoidable economic loss for an extended period of time through no fault of their own, but rather, through the fault of a ship captain’s negligence. Stated another way, Marquette Transportation Company is as responsible for the bridge’s damages as it is responsible for the travelers’ economic damages, and thus, the company should be as responsible for compensating the economic damages as it is responsible for compensating the bridge’s damages. At least for now, prevailing case law may disagree.

The attorneys of Broussard & David are skilled in holding responsible at-fault parties for incidents resulting from negligence on the individual or corporate level in maritime cases and vessel collisions. Contact them to discuss your legal rights at (337) 233-2323 (local) or (888) 337-2323 (toll-free).

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