After Delays, Capeco Civil Suit Slated to Start This Year
The civil lawsuit for damages that resulted from the 2009 explosion at Caribbean Petroleum Corp. (Capeco) is set to start Feb. 1 in federal court as a limitation of liability (LOL) proceeding that will be decided by a judge and not a jury.
On Oct. 23, 2009, an explosion and fire occurred at the Gulf Oil Facility in Bayamón that was owned and operated by Capeco.
The explosion occurred while the vessel M/T Cape Bruny—which was owned and chartered, respectively, by Cape Bruny Tankschiff arts GmbH & Co. KG and Cape Bruny Shipping Co. (collectively, “Cape Bruny”)—was discharging its cargo of unleaded gasoline into storage tanks at the facility, according to court documents.
One or more of the tanks overflowed, and the spilled fuel found a source of ignition, causing the explosion. The explosion and subsequent fire created a large plume of smoke and spread hazardous materials across Bayamón, San Juan and other neighboring municipalities.
Federal Judge Francisco Besosa agreed to the limitation of liability proceeding because, under general admiralty law, a vessel owner is entitled to limit liability after a maritime incident or casualty to the post-casualty value of the vessel and the pending freight, provided the circumstances causing the damage were outside the owner’s privity and knowledge, according to court documents.
The start of the trial was delayed because of Capeco’s bankruptcy filing and a stay requested by co-defendants Cape Bruny Tankschiff arts GmbH & Co. KG and Cape Bruny Shipping Co.
During the immediate aftermath of the explosion, numerous lawsuits were filed in federal court, including nine putative class actions, 10 “nonclass massjoinder” actions and two “individual” actions, court documents say.
On April 22, 2010, Cape Bruny, which had been named as a defendant in several of the lawsuits, filed a complaint for exoneration from or limitation of liability. The 21 lawsuits and LOL action were consolidated before the court for the purpose of docket management.
On Aug. 16, 2010, the court stayed all claims against Capeco in the consolidated actions after Capeco filed for bankruptcy. On Oct. 25, 2010, the court extended this stay to all litigation in the consolidated cases. The court modified the stay for the limited purpose of determining whether it had subject matter jurisdiction over the LOL action. On Jan. 15, 2014, the court vacated the bankruptcy stay. The stay for all claims against Cape Bruny outside the LOL action, however, remained in place.
On March 28, 2014, Cape Bruny, as the petitioner for the limitation of liability, filed a thirdparty complaint in the LOL action. Cape Bruny alleges the explosion “may have been caused in whole or in part by the acts, omissions or culpable conduct” of the third-party defendants, court documents say.
BY EVA LLORÉNS VÉLEZ