On January 9, 2013, at least eighty-five people were injured when a high-speed ferry heading to New York City crashed into a dock in Manhattan. The impact tore a large gash in the bow of the 130 foot long ferry. At the time of the accident, the ferry was carrying 326 people, including five crew members. It was reported that at least two of the injured individuals sustained serious head wounds. The accident involved a ferry operated by Seastreak, which carries more than four hundred people each trip between New Jersey and a pier in New York City near Wall Street.
This crash is certainly tragic, and begs the question of whether it could have been prevented. In 2009, the same ferry was involved in another incident where it hit a dock. In that 2009 accident, the ferry sustained a two to three foot rip in its hull. Reports from witnesses and passengers indicated that the ferry did not slow down as it approached the dock. In addition, there were also major safety concerns because passengers were already standing and lined up to exit the ferry, despite not having safely docked yet. In fact, one of the seriously injuries was caused by a man being thrown down the stairs and striking his head on a window. Investigators were not immediately clear on what caused the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board deployed a team to the scene to conduct a full investigation.
Ferries, like trains and buses, are referred to as “common carriers.” A common carrier is a company that provides transportation to the general public without discrimination, usually under some sort of license or authority from a regulatory body. Unlike drivers of cars, common carriers owe a greater obligation to provide a higher level of safety to its passengers. Ferry owners or operators could be held liable if an accident occurs because the ferry was not properly maintained, was not compliant with safety regulations or if the ferry captain did not properly operate the ferry.
The January 9 ferry accident could lead to a number of lawsuits, brought for various alleged offenses. First, it seems very likely that the ferry operator and the crew were not properly following safety guidelines. Many witnesses and passengers reported that passengers were standing and walking toward the ferry’s off-ramp before the ferry was safely docked. The greater number of people standing, particularly in close proximity, likely lead to many injuries.
In addition, in light of the previous accident in 2009, the ferry’s operator may not have properly maintained the ferry. Since the ferry was already involved in a prior accident, the operator could have been on notice that such an incident may occur again. Witnesses also mentioned that the ferry did not slow down once it reached the dock, indicating some mechanical issues that possibly could have been prevented.
Finally, there will certainly be an investigation into the ferry captain’s operation of the ferry. If the ferry captain was not following proper procedure, or engaged in improper behavior, like texting on his cell phone, then he will likely be liable for the passengers’ injuries, along with the ferry’s operator.