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Product Liability

Fisher Maritime has extensive experience in analyzing and preventing maritime-related product liability. Our work has involved both plaintiffs and defendants, and has included the organization of seminars and the development of a book on the topic.

This work has involved small and large craft, manufactured components, the offshore industry, LNG vessels, shipyards, and many others. Since our expertise ranges from analytical ship design through ship construction management and into marine operations of various marine craft, we bring many perspectives to our analyses. Further, we have a reputation for both performing accurate analyses and giving effective presentations.

We have assisted many clients in matters of maritime product liability. Of particular note, we were the sole technical consultants in a manufacturing defendant's case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court successfully. Fisher Maritime has learned a great deal from these past assignments and can pass our insights and "education" on to others seeking to avoid or deal with allegations of maritime product liability. The synopses of some of these past assignments have been included below to better familiarize oneself with the services we have provided pertaining to product liability matters.

PRODUCT LIABILITY VS. WARRANTY

Fisher Maritime's client, a propulsion machinery manufacturer, was faced with a $12 million claim by a ship owner. The product liability claim was for damages, costs and loss of charter-hire for four ships allegedly arising from product defects and negligence by our client in manufacturing and supervising the shipyard installation of major equipment.

Fisher Maritime's analysis included a complete review of shipyard installation and testing quality control procedures. Our analysis showed that the nature of the failure would have been subject to the original warranty, but the warranty had expired by the time of the casualty. It was therefore not a product liability issue, but was a contract issue since no damage occurred to anything other than the product itself.

The client was fully exonerated by District and Appellate courts. Because of differing Appellate decisions elsewhere, the US Supreme Court heard the case, and upheld the lower court's ruling.

SHIPYARD'S PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF DEFECTS

Fisher Maritime's client was a ship owner who experienced large economic losses due to the unavailability of a large tanker. The electrical system would unexpectedly go off line and imperil the ship when load-sharing by the two generators failed to operate satisfactorily. This was corrected after several near-disasters and large sums of money were spent on analyses and electrical hardware.

Investigation by Fisher Maritime revealed the constructing shipyard had prior knowledge of the electrical load sharing control defect, but ignored it to save $25,000 during ship construction. On behalf of the owner, Fisher Maritime established a claim for several million dollars for latent and product defects in the construction of the vessel. In a settlement, our client received about $3 million from the shipyard.

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Additional sample cases underscoring Fisher Maritime's experience are presented in the link below.

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FAILURES LEAD TO MAJOR CASUALTY

A vessel sank with significant loss of life during a severe storm off the east coast of the US. Underwater photographs showed a stove-in forward hatch cover and the ship's forward structure torn asunder. The hatch cover had been inspected by the manufacturer a few months earlier and had been accepted for the Load Line Certificate at the same time. The ship had been a conversion, with a new midbody between old bow and stern sections.

The NTSB and the USCG convened hearings, with the hatch cover manufacturer in the "hot seat." Fisher Maritime provided technical representation for the manufacturer at the hearings. It was postulated by the ship owner that the ship sank due to failure of the hatch cover, and then the other structural failures occurred when the hull struck the seabed. Fisher Maritime pointed out to the Board that the forward hatch was, in fact, forward of the collision bulkhead, so any flooding of that hatch would not have sunk the ship. We also showed that an alternate theory of damage from a loose anchor was inconsistent with the events prior to the casualty.

Subsequently, we recommended to the Board that remote sampling of the steel at sighted fractures be taken for analysis. It was later learned that, due to incompatibility between old steel and welding rods, the steel of the old bow had been brittlized in way of the welding-in of the new midbody, leading to a catastrophic failure of the structure. The hatch cover manufacturer was held to have no responsibility for the casualty.

COMPONENT FAILURE

A catastrophic failure of equipment on a tanker resulted in a flooded engine room and salvage and reconstruction costs that totaled over $14 million. The owner and insurers asserted a claim against Fisher Maritime's client, the manufacturer of the failed component, for alleged product defects.

Fisher Maritime identified the relative contributions of crew negligence (failure to follow emergency procedures), owner's negligence (failure to maintain), the role of the classification organization (failure to inspect although otherwise stated), and the manufacturer's negligence (none identified). We also assessed the validity of elements of owner's claim, including detailed review of shipyard invoices and salvage costs. A significant role of the classification organization in the casualty led to its contribution in settlement of about one quarter of the total.

Our analyses showed no specific product defect or manufacturer's liability, resulting in it's client contributing less than two percent of the total resolution.

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