Baltimore is gearing up to pursue legal action against the owner and operator of the Singapore-flagged cargo vessel that last month destroyed the Francis Scott Key Bridge and killed six construction workers, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Monday.

The city will bring in two private law firms, DiCello Levitt and the Philadelphia-based Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky “to launch legal action to hold the wrongdoers responsible,” the mayor’s office said in a Monday morning news release, pointing to the ship’s owner, charterer, operator and manufacturer among possible legal targets.

The announcement comes less than three weeks after the nearly 1,000-foot ship the Dali plowed into a pylon of the Key Bridge, crumpling the 47-year-old structure in a matter of seconds. Though police stopped traffic crossing the bridge just in time, six construction workers filling potholes on the overnight shift died in the collapse.

The city’s announcement came the same morning that federal authorities opened a criminal investigation into the Key Bridge collapse, with FBI agents raiding the Dali early Monday. The criminal investigation is focused on whether the ship’s crew knew there were mechanical or electrical issues aboard the Dali before it left the Port of Baltimore about three weeks ago, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

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How far the city gets in its pursuit of liability against the Dali owner and operator could hinge on well-defined and, in some cases, arcane shipping laws.

Grace Ocean Private, the owner of the Dali, and Synergy Marine Group, the manager of the ship, have already filed a petition in U.S. District Court to limit their liability under an 1851 law. If successful, that move would allow the ship’s owner to cap the payout from the disaster at the value of the Dali and its cargo, which the company reported in court filings as $43.67 million.

Attorneys for Baltimore said in Monday’s announcement that they intend to levy “significant” claims of economic loss against the owner and operator of the Dali. The collapse of the Key Bridge has largely shut down the Port of Baltimore. But under the Robins Dry Dock rule, established by a 1927 U.S. Supreme Court decision, a plaintiff can only recover economic losses if it has sustained physical damage to property it owns. The Key Bridge was not city property; the Maryland Transportation Authority owned it.

Scott said in a statement that the city is doing everything it can to support workers and families affected by the bridge’s collapse.

“With the ship’s owner filing a petition to limit its liability mere days after the incident, we need to act equally as quickly to protect the City’s interests,” the mayor said.

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Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine Group, said in an email that the company is “fully participating” in the various investigations underway.

“Out of respect for these investigations and any future legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” he said.

Specializing in complex issues, DiCello Levitt works in class action cases, business litigation, personal injury cases and whistleblower advocacy, according to the firm’s website.

Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky, meanwhile, is a personal injury law firm that has taken on high-profile cases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere. The firm represented victims’ families in the 2021 collapse of the Surfside condominium in Florida, which killed 98 people, helping to secure a $1.2 billion settlement.

City Solicitor Ebony Thompson said in a statement that it’s time to hold those responsible for the Dali accountable for Baltimore’s “substantial and ongoing economic losses” that have stemmed from the bridge collapse, along with “the unimaginable distress they have caused to the City’s residents, businesses, workers, and their families.”

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Sara Gross, chief of affirmative litigation for the city’s law department, will also represent Baltimore on the legal team alongside the two firms.

At the request of Grace Ocean Private and Synergy Marine Group, U.S. District Chief Judge James K. Bredar signed an order earlier this month preventing any lawsuits from being filed outside of the case now pending in his court. The judge set a deadline of Sept. 24 for the submission of claims in the case.

Reporter Dylan Segelbaum contributed to this story.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Darrell Wilson’s first name.

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government.

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