Michelle Otero Valdés, with the assistance before trial of Melissa Russo, successfully defended Mobro Marine, Inc. (“Mobro”) in a bench trial before the Honorable James Cohn in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Judge Cohn issued his decision on October 6, 2015, finding that third-party defendant, Mobro, had no fault for the loss of twenty-one (21) containers which fell from the barge, Atlantic Trader,off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida.
The Plaintiff, Transatlantic Lines, LLC (“Transatlantic”) had chartered and operated the Atlantic Trader, a barge which was found to have experienced substantial corrosion and which lacked a full complement of container sockets and D-rings, to replace another vessel for its regular cargo transport from Jacksonville, Florida to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Three (3) days prior to the Atlantic Trader’s incidental voyage, Transatlantic hired Mobro to install a crane and weld approximately thirty (30) D-rings to the Atlantic Trader’s deck. Transatlantic purchased the D-rings and placed them on the deck wherever old D-rings were missing. Employees of Transatlantic and Defendant Portus Stevedoring, LLC (“Portus”), discussed how to approach the problem of the Atlantic Trader’s missing container sockets. Portus suggested that 4×4 wood dunnage would be used to level the deck and accommodate the shipping containers. Transatlantic agreed. During the voyage, the wooden dunnage compressed under the weight of the shipping containers and created slack in the lashing. The slack, in turn, subjected the lines to extraordinary force while the Atlantic Trader was underway. As a result, twenty-one (21) shipping containers fell into the waters off of the coast of Florida, causing Transatlantic a loss of $517,942.03.
Transatlantic sued Portus under three (3) theories of liability: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of implied warranty of workmanlike performance; and (3) negligence. Portus in turn brought Mobro into the suit by alleging that it was the Mobro’s negligence in welding a handful of D-rings that contributed to the loss. The Court concluded that although Transatlantic established Portus’s liability, Transatlantic itself was also partially liable for the loss in failing to exercise reasonable care when it approved Portus’s suggestion to use the wooden dunnage to secure the cargo, in providing Portus with a barge in a broken-down condition, in failing to provide Portus with the barge’s Trim and Stability Booklet, and in failing to monitor the barge’s cargo compression of the dunnage and to tighten the lashing at they required. As a result, the Court found that Transatlantic was sixty (60) percent at fault for the loss and Portus was forty (40) percent at fault for the loss.
Moreover, citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 14(c), which treats impleaded third-parties as though they had been sued directly by the plaintiff, the Court stated that Transatlantic and Portus bear the burden of proving that Mobro acted in a negligent manner. As neither party was able to prove that Mobro was negligent, the Court entered judgment in favor of Mobro and assigned it no liability.
To read a copy of the Court’s decision click here.
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