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Extension request in El Faro sinking suit prompts questions

Earlier this month we raised the question about whether employers ever try to use the laws intended to protect workers to delay or avoid paying workers' compensation benefits. As that post noted, it has been known to happen. But as that item also observed, employers don't always get away with it.

The symbol of justice that graces courthouses around Texas and the rest of the U.S. is a blindfolded woman holding scales. It's supposed to represent how much value our system puts in the rightness of the law to weigh evidence and achieve what's right. At the same time, the rules of the court are such that each side has a chance to tip the balance at any given time.

Some experts suggest this might be in play right now in the federal case involving the maritime disaster of the sinking of the U.S. cargo ship, El Faro. That vessel went down last October in a hurricane off the Bahamas. Its crew of 33 went down with it. Since then, 14 families of crew members have settled wrongful death lawsuits with the ship's owners.

A number of other families still have claims pending and a deadline for settling is set for April 19. But this week the ship's owners asked the federal court in Florida handling the case for an extension of 90 days on the filing of discovery documents. The request makes the claim that it wouldn't hurt any of the parties and might actually give claimants more time to explore their settlement options.

But at least one legal observer questions the move. He says it sounds like a delaying tactic that could make it tough for the claimants to prepare their cases if they do go to trial. He suggests it would be better to keep the legal team for the owners on task with supplying the documents; that it would encourage the companies to continue working in good faith to settle.

We expect attorneys experienced in maritime injury law are watching the proceedings with interest.

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