1851 Law May Limit Ship Owner's Bridge Liability

Cost could be $4B, and figuring out who will pay for all of it will be complicated
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 29, 2024 1:00 AM CDT
Updated Mar 29, 2024 6:54 AM CDT
Who's Going to Pay for Baltimore Bridge? It Could Get Sticky
A cargo ship is stuck under the part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge, Tuesday March 26, 2024, in Baltimore, Md.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The devastating collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday, which left six construction workers dead or presumed dead and injured two others, is going to be expensive. The shipping insurance payout could break the current record for a marine loss, Splash247.com reports. That record is currently held by the Costa Concordia disaster, in which the luxury cruise liner wrecked in 2012 after hitting a rock, resulting in insurance claims of around $2 billion.

  • How much might it cost? An analyst tells Reuters losses could reach up to $4 billion in the Baltimore bridge collapse, and likely wouldn't be less than $2 billion. A British insurance marketplace put its estimate at $3 billion, the BBC reports. Other experts agree that the cost is likely to run into the multi-billions.

  • Who will pay? That will be a "complicated, yearslong mess," as CNN puts it. There are multiple insurance companies involved, as well as maritime laws that date back more than a century. An 1851 law that was invoked by the owners of the RMS Titanic, for example, could limit the amount the ship owner is liable for. See all the ins and outs at CNN.
  • Battle is brewing on Capitol Hill: The Biden administration has already approved $60 million in federal aid to Maryland, per the AP, and President Biden had earlier said the federal government would pay to replace the bridge. The Hill notes that some Democrats praised the idea, seeing as the bridge is "a major artery feeding the Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the country." But conservatives aren't happy, arguing regional governments should fund the massive project, and even some liberals pointed out the owner of the ship that struck the bridge should be held responsible. More at the Hill, and CNN also looks at the topic here.
  • What about other costs? It's not just the fallen bridge—the Port of Baltimore is closed indefinitely, a major shipping lane is impacted, and global commerce will take a hit. Experts say that the ship's owners are not likely to be held liable for purely economic losses such as those, but that wrongful death claims against the ship's owners are more likely to succeed.
(More Baltimore bridge collapse stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.