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Court finds grain terminal's $20 million damage claim was foreseeable and not limited by dock tariff

This dispute arises out of an incident occurring in 2020 when the ship’s crane made contact with a component of a grain terminal’s loading equipment. None of the terminal’s ship loaders were damaged and the terminal did not lose any grain product as a result of the incident, but the loaders were rendered unavailable for a period of time. The terminal was fully operational less than a week later. Despite this, the terminal claimed significant economic loss against the ship with a damage claim totaling $20 million. At the time of the incident, the relationship between the parties was governed by a dock tariff.

In an effort to reduce the damage claim, the ship filed a motion for summary judgment arguing: (1) the specific “vessel liability” provision in the dock tariff precluded recovery of all but a fraction of the terminal’s claimed losses; and, alternatively, (2) the claimed economic damages were not recoverable because they were not foreseeable as a matter of law. The court rejected both arguments.

As to the first argument, the court found that the ship’s proposed reading of the tariff was “too narrow” and disregarded the tariff’s “remedies” provision which expressly stated that the dock “shall .. have all remedies” available by law. The court found that the more specific “vessel liability” provision “can be, and should be read in harmony with the ‘remedies’ provision, not in conflict and not as a controlling specific provision.”

As to the second argument, the court noted “The question is not whether a shipowner could have foreseen the size of damages, but rather whether it could have foreseen the ‘general sort’ of damages.” Although the terminal’s claimed economic losses were high for only being down for a few days, the court determined that the “general sort” of damages at issue were foreseeable.

Based on the above, the court denied the ship’s motion for summary judgment reserving other issues such as the reasonableness of the damages for trial.

The case citation for this decision is In re GH Storm Cat, LLC, Civil Action No. 20-3085 (E.D.LA. August 5, 2022). A publicly available copy of the decision is accessible through this link:

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