Cosco Busan Owner Sues Longs For San Francisco Bay Bridge Accident

bridgeThings aren’t always what they seem. What often appears a simple accident is often much more involved. The shipping accident of the Cosco Busan is a case in point.

On November 7, 2007, at about 8:30 a.m. in foggy weather, a 901 foot long container ship, the Cosco Busan, crashed into the base of a tower of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The ship was operated by a bar pilot and was outbound from Oakland and was headed to South Korea. The impact to the ship caused a 212 foot long gas in the port side of the ship and breached the fuel tanks and ballast tank. As a result, over 53,000 gallons of fuel were released into the San Francisco Bay. The spill killed more than 2,500 birds, temporarily closed a fishery on the bay, and delayed the start of the crab season. Monetary damages were estimated to be $2.1 million to the ship, $1.5 million to the bridge and more than $70 million for clean up of the environment.

Last week the owners of the Cosco Busan sued the Northern California pharmacists, CVS Pharmacy, claiming that they negligently dispensed prescription drugs to the pilot of the ship. In their legal filings, the owners claimed that CVS “recklessly” provided pills to the pilot, and so clouded his judgement and dulled his reflexes that they contributed to the cause of the accident. As a result of the spill, the owners of the ship have paid out over $18 million dollars in fines and settlements. The lawsuit claims that CVS should be responsible for part of this tab since the pharmacy did not warn the pilot of the ship of the dangers of combining these drugs, nor consult his doctors, or licensing authorities.

Under California tort law, a negligent person or entity is responsible for all damages caused by their negligent conduct. In terms of economic losses, if a company causes injury or damages to others, it is responsible for the damages caused even if there whether are other causes of the accident. It does not get off the hook for damages just because there may be other negligent parties that also contributed to the accident. This is called the law of joint and several liability.

As a San Francisco personal injury lawyer, I see that it is often the case that there are multiple causes for a particular accident. For example, in a serious automobile accident, which causes personal injuries, the most obvious cause of an accident may be the negligent driver. But often times, there are other significant causes such as defective conditions of the cars, or dangerous conditions of the roadway which may have also contributed to the accident. Hence, it is extremely important in any accident type case, that all probable causes of the accident be identified.

In the Cosco Busan case, the National Traffic Safety Board which investigated the accident, found numerous causes of the accident. Among them was the fact that the pilot was operating the ship with “degraded cognitive performance from his use of impairing prescription medications.” If the owners of the ship can prove this in court, and that CVS’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the pilot’s condition, they will be able to recover substantial amounts for the damages that they have already paid out to others.

The teaching point from this case is the importance of a thorough investigation of any accident. When a serious personal injury accident, or property damage accident occurs, there are often multiple causes. Each of these causes must be identified and all negligent parties must be brought into the case. In this way, full justice can be obtained for the injured victims.


Cosco Busan owner sues pharmacists for giving ship’s pilot pills in 2007 Bay spill, Mercury News, April 25, 2012
Marine Accident Report, National Traffic Safety Board, November 7, 2011

Phone Numbers