Maryland’s attorney general is planning to hire five private law firms to help with lawsuits against parties involved in the crash of the Dali cargo ship into the Key Bridge earlier this spring.

Attorney General Anthony Brown hasn’t indicated yet who the state might sue or when, though it’s clear that litigation will be in the works.

Brown toured the collapsed bridge site in late April and, according to his office, said at that time that his office was reviewing potential liability from “anyone from the ship owner; the management company; it may include others who designed, manufactured, and maintained various systems on the ship.”

The Maryland Board of Public Works, which approves major state contracts, will vote Wednesday on a plan to hire five law firms to assist the attorney general’s team. The board is comprised of the governor, comptroller and treasurer, all Democrats.

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The firms would be paid between 2% and 18% of any money recovered for the state, depending on how much money is won and at which point in the legal process an award is made.

“We have a great team of attorneys in the Office of the Attorney General … but we’re going to need to retain additional assistance to pursue the key bridge litigation. It goes without saying this will be exceedingly complex and potentially lengthy litigation,” Brown told the board of the Maryland Transportation Authority on Monday.

He added: “They only get paid if we are successful in recovering compensation for the state.”

The MDTA, which owns and operates the Key Bridge and other toll facilities, voted to sign off on the contracts.

In the early hours of March 26, the Dali cargo ship smashed into the Key Bridge, sending the structure careening into the Patapsco River. Six men who were working on the bridge died.

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The crash forced the Port of Baltimore to nearly completely shut down; vessel traffic into the port has gradually begun to return as crews have worked to clear the wreckage.

The bridge collapse also meant that the region lost one of three Patapsco River crossings, affecting commuters and commercial truck traffic alike for years to come. The estimated cost to rebuild the bridge is nearly $2 billion, and officials are working to get the federal government to bear the full cost.

The Dali remains grounded in the river, and crews plan to refloat the ship this week after using precision explosives to break apart a large portion of the bridge sitting atop the ship.

Though much of the work of clearing the channel has been taken on by federal and military agencies, more than 15 state agencies have been involved in the response, as well as local government agencies.

“The Attorney General intends to identify and hold accountable the parties responsible for the Key Bridge collapse and to recover compensation for the damages and other harm suffered by the State,” notes the Board of Public Works agenda.

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The attorney general’s efforts could be helped by a new state law that was approved in the wake of the ship strike and bridge collapse.

The law requires a judge or jury handling a Key Bridge lawsuit to assign “comparative responsibility” to the different parties that may be held responsible for the ship crash and bridge collapse.

The law also says that if the state settles with one responsible party, it can still take legal action against other parties that may be responsible. The bill was passed on the final day of Maryland’s General Assembly session in early April; it was signed into law by Gov. Wes Moore on April 25.

The state also intends to get involved in litigation brought by the ship’s owner to limit its liability in the case.

That case is already pending in federal court, and Baltimore’s government has formally objected to the effort by the ship owner, Grace Ocean Private, and ship manager, Synergy Marine Group, to limit their liability to $43.67 million under an 1851 law.

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The city hired the multistate firm DiCello Levitt and Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky of Philadelphia to represent its interests.

When the state’s attorney general solicited firms to apply for the contract, it received 34 proposals involving a combined 63 firms. Six finalists were identified and interviewed, and the attorney general’s office picked five: Kelley Drye & Warren of Houston; Liskow & Lewis of Houston; Downs Ward Bender Herzog & Kintigh of Hunt Valley; the Lanier Law Firm of New York City; and Partridge LLC from New Orleans.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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