By Lisa Barron
(Reuters) - Passengers aboard a high-speed commuter ferry that crashed while docking near Wall Street in January have filed 37 lawsuits against boat owner Seastreak LLC, seeking as much as $45 million each.
The 37 claims were filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, by Thursday's court-imposed deadline. They seek damages for suffering incurred when the Seastreak Wall Street, carrying more than 320 passengers from New Jersey, slammed into a pier during docking on January 9, injuring 57 people, one critically.
"They have suffered deformities, fractures and emotional trauma. It was a life altering event," attorney Norman Hobbie, who represents 14 passengers and 11 spouses, told Reuters on Friday.
"It was described by more than one as like a scene from a zombie movie where people were walking around dazed and bloodied."
After the accident, the captain told investigators the reverse thrusters failed to work as the vessel neared the dock during the morning rush hour, leading to the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the accident and hopes to report updates in the next few weeks, an NTSB spokesperson said.
"We anticipated claims would be filed," Thomas Wynne, a spokesman for Seastreak told Reuters. "It's still in the early stages of the proceeding, so we don't have an understanding yet of what the claims are for."
Shortly after the crash, Seastreak filed a petition in federal court to limit its liability to the value of the vessel, which it set at $7.6 million.
"Obviously the potential of limiting liability is important to the ship owner," said Gino Zonghetti of Kenny & Zonghetti, a New York law firm representing Seastreak.
"We're not suggesting that liability is $7.6 million. It may turn out that it's substantially less, but when you don't know what you're dealing with, you have to at least have the potential of limiting liability."
Seastreak is owned by the Barker and Tregurtha families, who also own the Interlake Steamship Co, Mormac Marine Group Inc and Moran Towing Co, the largest tug and barge operator on the East and Gulf coasts, according to the company's website.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Phil Berlowitz and Andre Grenon)