Limitations of the Limitation of Liability Act

Perhaps one of the most famous cases involving the Limitation of Liability Act is the sinking of the Titanic. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the ship’s British owner and limited its liability to the vessel’s post-wreck value, which was about $92,000 for the remaining lifeboats. What that meant is that even though there was insurance and there were claims worth millions of dollars, the total amount available to divide up among all the claimants was $92,000. The Limitation of Liability Act, which applies to all watercrafts — rowboats, jet skis, yachts, commercial ships, cruise ships, ferries, passenger vessels, sailboats, tugboats and tankers, can be devastating to injured parties and their families, as it can drastically diminish or wipe out any recovery they are entitled to receive under the law.

The Limitation of Liability Act also does not apply to claims involving wages or maintenance and cure owed to seamen. However, the act does apply to most other claims arising from a maritime injury, accident, collision or allision that occurred on navigable waters.

Depending on the particular circumstances of the case, a petition under the Limitation of Liability Act is beatable. If the injury or accident resulted from the vessel’s unseaworthiness or from negligence on the part of the owner or the owner’s agents, and if the owner had privity and knowledge about the unseaworthy condition or negligence, then an experienced maritime attorney can help you fight the limitation of liability action, so you can get the compensation you need and deserve. A proper investigation of all facts surrounding the accident is important in defeating a Petition for Limitation of Liability.

Years ago, in a Petition for Limitation of Liability case that we handled involving the sinking of a fishing vessel, the defense attorneys claimed that the fishing vessel sunk not due to any unseaworthy condition of the vessel or any negligence of the owner, but rather because another vessel struck the fishing boat, causing it to split in half and sink. To defeat limitations and this defense, we hired a company with an underwater ROV (underwater camera) to go out to the area where the vessel went down to search for it and take photos of it. With members of our law firm on board, the ROV company steamed out to the last area of the EPRIB pings, and the ROV searched the bottom of the ocean and was able to find the boat resting on its side on the ocean floor, fully intact – not split in half. As a result of the photographs showing that the vessel was intact, the case soon settled.

Have you received a Petition for Limitation of Liability? Contact a Boston maritime attorney today — you only have so much time to fight it. If the vessel owner prevails, your recovery may be capped at the current value of the vessel, even if your injuries have cost much more.

Latti & Anderson LLP –Boston maritime trial lawyers