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Dredge operator looks to limit liability in Port explosion

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Posted at 4:44 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-07 22:44:11-04

One of the companies being sued over the August pipeline explosion in the Port of Corpus Christi is trying to put a limit on any financial settlement, and its relying on a nearly 200-year-old law to do so.

The incident killed four people and injured six.

Orion Marine Group filed papers Monday in a U.S. District Court in Galveston asking for protection under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851.

In a statement, an Orion spokesperson said the company's filing was required by its insurance carrier. KRIS Communications also reached out to EPIC by phone for comment, but so far have not heard back.

“It’s a really aggressive tactic that really should be done away with,” said attorney Kurt Arnold, whose firm Arnold & Itkin represents one of the injured.

Under the pre-Civil War maritime law, claims against a vessel’s owner are limited to the value of the vessel.

“It has an outdated purpose, right now all it does is protect, typically, foreign insurance companies,” Arnold said.

So far, six lawsuits, seeking a total of more than $360 million in damages, have been filed against Orion Marine Group, as well Enterprise Partners. The dredge vessel, the Waymon L. Boyd, is worth a little more than $9 million.

If Orion’s petition is successful, other victims would likely not be able to file claims.

“Normally under the Jones Act, somebody that’s injured or killed offshore has three years, while Orion is seeking to make them file a claim within 60 days,” Arnold said.

Arnold believes Orion is essentially suing its victims.

“They do this tactic to slow everything down, to try to starve out families,” he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s initial findings said that Orion was dredging on Epic Pipeline's behalf when the vessel is thought to have hit the pipeline, owned by Enterprise Partners. Immediately following the blast, Orion claimed the pipeline wasn’t mapped.

“If I can show, and those are magical words, ‘privity and knowledge,' that Orion had that knowledge, we dissolve this limitation and it forever gets blown up, and we go back to state court where we can try this case in front of a jury,” said Arnold.