EDITORIAL – Port drops car: A ‘crash course’ in immunity clauses

The Williams family’s new life in the Cayman Islands started off with a bang — and a crash, and a thud … But no “I’m sorry” from port personnel who dropped their shipping container, causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage to its contents, including their car, scooters and other property.

Instead of an apology, the Cayman Islands Port Authority has given the Williamses the runaround, blaming the accident on “faulty” latches on top of the shipping container, attempting to shift responsibility to the private shipping company and then, as a last resort, informing the couple that the Port Authority is only liable to pay for damage to property if there is “wilful neglect or default.” (In fact, the regulations to the Port Authority Law stipulate that the port also cannot be held responsible for losses, delays, thefts and even injuries or death, unless, again, “wilful neglect or default” can be demonstrated.)

If this sounds familiar, it should: It’s the “Section 12 problem,” all over again.

We are, of course, referring to the blanket immunity clause that grabbed headlines earlier this year after a judge ruled that “Section 12” of the Health Services Authority Law effectively prevented any lawsuits from proceeding against the public hospital’s doctors, nurses or other staff for medical negligence. Similar immunity provisions appear in several other laws governing Cayman agencies, including the National Roads Authority, Planning Department, Airports Authority, Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, Maritime Authority and, apparently, the Port Authority as well.

Following a hue and cry from the populace, lawmakers at first denied vigorously that “Section 12” was actively intended to shield HSA staff from accountability (even though the HSA had deliberately invoked the immunity clause on several occasions to fend off potential lawsuits). Then, in late April, lawmakers convened and unanimously approved the repeal of Section 12 from the HSA Law, but only in the HSA Law. Nearly six months later, the Legislative Assembly is again in session, but there is no indication that lawmakers plan to alter any of the other immunity clauses in any of the other laws.

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(In case you were wondering … we were, so we looked it up … the Traffic Law does indeed contain an immunity clause shielding the Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing, and its vehicle inspectors, from liability for causing damage to property “unless it is shown that the act or omission was in bad faith.” That may explain, in part, otherwise-inexplicable delays in the traffic case concerning the DVDL “racing inspector” who totaled a car he was test driving in broad daylight on July 11. Police investigated the high-profile incident and submitted a case file to public prosecutors in mid-September … That would be more than a month ago … and since then, we have heard nothing.)

Lawmakers’ limited action on the HSA Law this spring, and blatant inaction on other immunity clauses, is proof that those “Section 12s” are there for a specific and obvious purpose, that is, to protect the government when it harms people or property.

What we editorialized in March continues to hold true: “The blanket immunity was absolutely intentional, and was meant to shield the public agencies from accountability for errors or accidents.”

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  1. I truly believe that whom ever is responsible for dropping the container with the Williams car and personal articles should have a discussion with them with a view of compensation.
    In todays living, we must accept that something strange happen every day. A container dropping doesn’t happen here all the time, and if it is the first then just be thankful that no one was hurt and pay the people for their loss.

  2. If ever there was a case of wilful misconduct it is the “racing inspector”, witnessed by a senior government employee. Under Mr Manderson’s rule of thumb it will likely take 3 years to be resolved, assuming that at some stage the police proceed with a prosecution. I could not agree more with the Editorial regarding the Legislature’s blatant inaction on immunity clauses, which only encourages this type of farcical situation.

  3. I’m not for one second trying to defend the culture of immunity but didn’t Mr and Mrs Williams take out any insurance to cover their goods in transit? When you have that much at stake it would seem like a rather basic precaution.

  4. The issue of Insurances , I think that the couple could have had shipping insurance on the container . But how Insurance policies are written might be only cover while on the ship / carrier , not Port handling , but shipping Ports should have personal Insurance to cover accidentally damages to people property .

    I really think that Mr Williams needs to do is to start his own private investigation , and find out who and where his container was dropped , and take it from there . I wish them good luck .