Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Thursday, October 11, 2001


AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn today vowed to aggressively pursue every legal remedy to ensure that those responsible for the deadly collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway are made to pay for the harm and damage they have caused.

Cornyn said the loss of life, loss of livelihood and cumulative economic impact are staggering. The Attorney General made the comments in a media briefing with State Sen. Eddie Lucio.

"I will pursue every available legal remedy to require the marine towing company that hit the bridge to bear full responsibility for the deaths and damage caused by the collision," Cornyn said.

"Investigations are underway by my office, by TxDOT, by the U.S. Coast Guard, and others," Cornyn noted. "Based on everything we know at this point, there are no indications that attempts to blame sand bars in the channel or faulty navigation lights are anything more than smokescreens designed obscure responsibility and accountability.

"Let's not forget that eight people died in this accident and the toll of economic damage inflicted on South Padre Island is still being added up," Cornyn said. "The impact of this accident is staggering. The taxpayers of Texas, the residents of South Padre and the families of those who died deserve our best efforts to obtain justice and recover damages."

Cornyn said he has a team of lawyers investigating the accident, working closely with the Coast Guard and other state and federal agencies. "Once our investigation is complete, we will pursue this case in federal or state courts," Cornyn said. "Every legal remedy will be aggressively addressed."

Within hours of the early morning accident on Sept. 14, Brown Water Towing, Inc. and Brown Water Marine Services, Inc., filed a U.S. District Court action in Brownsville asking for a ruling limiting its legal liability to the value of the tugboat it operated, citing a federal maritime law first passed in 1851. If the action were successful, the company's liability would be limited to about $270,000, a mere fraction of the potential damages.

On September 19, the Attorney General's office filed suit on behalf of the Texas Department of Transportation in State District Court in Cameron County to recover the full costs of repairing damage to the bridge, emergency measures taken following the collapse, rescue efforts, ferry operations and other related costs. The bridge repairs alone are estimated in excess of $4 million.

The suit alleged that the company failed to maintain lookout and chart a safe course; failed to use radar, navigation charts and other equipment properly; failed to take appropriate action to assess conditions to avoid the collision; and failed to properly train its crew to ensure safe operation of the tugboat.

On September 24, U.S. District Judge Hilda D. Tagle issued an order that stayed all other suits except the federal action and ordered that all claims related to the bridge collapse be filed in her court by March 14, 2002. After that date, a hearing will be held to determine procedural issues. Cornyn said his office would file additional papers in federal court prior to the March deadline, but declined to discuss specific legal strategies pending the continuing investigation.

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