Arkansas River Barge Incident Detailed In Limitation Of Liability Filing

Papers filed in federal court by lawyers for Bruce Oakley Inc. and Johnston’s Port 33 shed more light on the chain of events that led to two barges traveling down the Arkansas River and striking a dam.

The two companies presented their version of events in the filing, called a limitation of liability claim, according to the August 5 Muskogee Phoenix.

According to the report on the filing, a towboat owned by the two entities, the mv. Legacy, was used on May 22 to round up and secure two barges allegedly set adrift by the crew of another towboat.

The two barges were secured to two trees on the bank. The companies say rising river levels uprooted the trees to which they were moored later that night. They allege that the rising river was caused by the Corps of Engineers opening dam gates upriver. The current then pulled the barges off the bank and caused them to drift downriver, where they struck another dam near Webbers Falls, Okla., and sank on May 23.

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Video footage of the dam strike briefly went viral, and there were concerns that the town might have to be evacuated.

Maritime attorneys say this type of filing is standard in cases like these.

According to maritime attorney Grady Hurley of Jones Walker, a petition seeking exoneration from or limitation of liability is a useful maritime lawyers’ tool. The petition is a procedural device filed by a vessel owner or its insurer to identify all potential claimants in a single concursus proceeding. It provides for an orderly proceeding before a judge sitting in admiralty to administer a multi-party event in which various damages might be sought. Exoneration can be granted where the vessel is free from fault.

The companies say the incident and its damages were caused by factors for which no one is responsible. They are asking that any potential liability claims be limited to the value of the mv. Legacy.