The family of a crew member missing from the El Faro cargo ship is seeking $100 million in a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against the owners and captain of the ship that sank off the Bahamas in a hurricane two weeks ago.
The lawsuit on behalf of the estate of Lonnie Jordan, one of the 33 crew members presumed dead, was filed on Wednesday in Jacksonville, against Tote Services Inc and Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, as well as the El Faro captain, according to court documents.
"Tote Services, negligently permitted the El Faro to sail out to sea despite being in an unseaworthy condition to handle the conditions of a violent storm," the lawsuit states.
Attorney Willie E. Gary, flanked by relatives of other crew members, told reporters outside the Duval County courthouse, "the ship should have never left dock."
Gary told Reuters he would be seeking the ship maintenance records and had heard that it was undergoing mechanical repairs the day it departed as well as having other problems within weeks of the doomed trip.
More lawsuits would follow on behalf of the other relatives, warned Gary, a flamboyant Florida-based personal injury lawyer who has taken on major corporations such as Walt Disney and Anheuser-Busch.
"We're at war now," Gary said.
Tote Maritime declined to discuss the lawsuit and a spokesman said the company was "fully focused on supporting the families and their loved ones."
Tote executives have previously said the captain sailed with a sound plan and blamed the sinking on engine failure.
Jordan, 33, of Jacksonville, worked on the ship for 13 years as a cook and at other jobs, his family told the Jacksonville Times-Union.
The 790-foot (241 meters) container ship left Jacksonville on a weekly cargo run to Puerto Rico on the evening of Sept. 29. It was last heard from on the morning of Oct. 1 when the captain communicated that the ship had taken on water, was listing at 15 degrees and had lost propulsion.
Its last known position was close to the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, battling 50 foot (15 meters) waves and winds over 100 miles per hour (161 km per hour).
The U.S. Coast Guard called off a search and rescue mission last week after finding only one body amid debris from the ship.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation is under way and is coordinating a salvage team to retrieve the ship's voyage data recorder.