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NYC Loses Bid To Limit Liability In Ferry Crash

NEW YORK (CN) - Citing "negligent acts," the 2nd Circuit refused to limit New York City's liability in the 2003 crash of a Staten Island ferry that killed 11 people and injured more than 70.

A three-judge panel found that the city "did not act with reasonable care" when it let assistant Capt. Richard Smith operate the 310-foot M/V Andrew J. Barberi without at least one other person in or near the pilothouse in case of an emergency, as required by a "two-pilot rule." The ferry was carrying 1,500 passengers when an "exhausted" Smith lost control and allowed the Barberi to smash into a concrete maintenance pier. The impact tore a 210-foot gash in the hull and destroyed about 1,500 square feet of the pier.

Smith pleaded guilty to 11 counts of seaman's manslaughter and to one count of making a false statement to the Coast Guard. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The city asked the court to cap its liability to $14.4 million - the amount of the ferry - in the wrongful-death and personal-injury claims that followed.

The court declined, citing the standard of care that the Coast Guard uses for similarly sized ships, where at least one other person must be on watch in or near the pilothouse with the pilot. This two-pilot rule "reflects the minimum safety precautions that the city must take under the circumstances of this case," the court wrote.

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