ABS Cleared in ‘Prestige’ Liability Suit

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The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Wednesday upheld the original ruling that the government of Spain cannot hold Houston-based American Bureau of Shipping liable in connection to the 2002 Prestigeoil spill off Spain.

The Prestige, a single-hulled tanker certified by ABS, sank off Spain’s northwest coast in November 2002 after suffering a major structural failure that resulted in the spill of some 63,000 tons of oil and wreaked along Spain’s beaches.

Since 2003, Spain has brought on more than $1 billion in civil suits against ABS alleging that, as the international class

ification society for the ship, ABS was “reckless” in certifying the ship seaworthy for its final voyage.  The suit was considered by many a “precedent-setting” case that would determine whether classification societies can be held responsible by third parties in an incident such as this.

ABS won the case on grounds that “Spain was outside the (quite limited) set of parties to whom a classification society might normally be liable” and the “reckless conduct” on behalf of ABS “would still not give rise to tort liability to a third party such as Spain.”

Spain, however, appealed.

Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals laid down the final decision and upheld the original verdict, determining in a 3-0 ruling that Spain did not provide sufficient evidence to take the case back to trial and clearing ABS of all charges.

We conclude that we need not resolve the question whether a classification society may be held liable in tort to a third party such as Spain for reckless conduct in connection with the classification of vessels. Rather, we assume arguendo for purposes of this appeal that Defendants did owe the claimed duty to Spain. In our view, Spain has nonetheless failed to adduce sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Defendants recklessly breached that duty such that their actions constituted a proximate cause of the wreck of the Prestige.

Today’s ruling puts an end to the nearly decade-long legal battle ABS has faced since the Prestige incident.

Read today’s decision: Reino de España v. American Bureau of Shipping