The Limitation of Liability Act is an old and controversial maritime statute. It was passed in 1851 to protect commercial ship owners from financial hardship after losing a vessel and its cargo or passengers at sea. Under the Act, a shipowner may be able to limit its liability to the value of the ship after the incident, plus pending freight. A vessel owner is not permitted to limit its liability if the vessel owner had privity or knowledge of the negligence or unseaworthiness that caused the casualty.
Simply put, the Limitation Act may allow vessels owners to walk away from a maritime casualty for little more than what the vessel was worth after the accident. If the vessel sinks or is beyond repair, that could basically nothing. Imagine, dozens of people could be injured or killed on a vessel and the owner can try to limit its liability to nearly nothing.
Pretty much any motorized vessel on navigable waters can make a claim for limitation. It is no surprise that the Act would apply to vessels like cruise ships, container ships, dry bulk carriers, and tug and barges. But you may be surprised to learn that the Act can also apply to pleasure boats, yachts, jet skis, and houseboats.
The Limitation of Liability Act has come under scrutiny in recent years when it was attempted as a defense to national maritime tragedies:
M/V EL FARO—Container ship sinking in October 2015.33 crewmembers were killed at sea.
STRETCH DUCK 07—An amphibious duck boat sank during a storm in Missouri in July 2018. 17 people drowned.
D/V CONCEPTION— Fire aboard a recreational dive vessel in September 2019. 34 passengers died in the blaze.
Limitation of Liability cases involve complex legal issues and critical timing. It is crucial to involve an experienced maritime attorney as soon as possible. Many vessel owners will seek limitation within days of a maritime tragedy. There is a 6-month time bar for the proceedings to be filed in any event. The court will set a deadline for injured parties to file claims. If the deadline is missed, injured mariners may be barred from recovery in the future—well short of the three-year statute of limitations for Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claims. Once a claim is filed in limitation, a seasoned maritime lawyer can help you try to find a way out. The truth is that vessel owners rarely succeed in limitation cases—they are often just a stall tactic or a hinderance to less experienced injury lawyers.
If you or a loved one has been injured or tragically killed during a marine casualty, Mariner Law, PLLC is here to help with Limitation of Liability. Please call (253) 600-2531 now. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.