What is Maritime Limitation of Liability?

In late 2011, Everglades Island Boat Tours was operating their airboat in navigable waters when one of its passengers was injured.

In early 2013, the Middle District of Florida released an admiralty decision interpreting the longstanding maritime rule of “limitation of liability.”  In the matter of Everglades Island Boat Tours, LLC, they upheld the Federal Limitation of Shipowner’s Liability Act (46 U.S.C. section 30501-30512) and Federal Rule Fallowing this airboat tour company to limit their liability to the value of the boat for injuries sustained by a passenger.

After years of legal wrangling, this airboat tour company was able to limit its liability for the injury to its passenger to $18,000 (the appraised value of the vessel).  This means that the injured party cannot collect ANYTHING over $18,000 from the airboat company, even if her medical bills were in access of that amount (not to mention pain and suffering).

Shipowners have had the privilege of being able to limit their liability with respect to marine incidents for a VERY long time.  This practice has been traced back to the medieval sea laws, but the modern law dates from 1734 in England and from 1851 in the US.

The Federal Limitation of Shipowner’s Liability Act allows a shipowner to limit their exposure to lawsuits to the value of their vessel (and included freight) after an accident.  For example, a driver or owner and a passenger on a Jet Ski collide with a dock.  The passenger is seriously injured and requires multiple surgeries.  The driver or owner of the Jet Ski may be able to limit their liability to the value of the destroyed Jet Ski (which is basically $0).  However, the statute does provide a loophole for those injured parties.  The limitation of liability is only available to owners if they have NO knowledge of the injury.  Therefore, if the scenario above actually happened, the driver or owner would NOT be able to limit their liability to the de minimis value of the destroyed Jet Ski and would be liable for potentially all the damages of the passenger.

Accidents happen on the water all the time.  Holding the responsible party accountable takes knowledge of the many intricacies of maritime law  If you have been injured in a maritime accident, call an experienced maritime attorney today to get the compensation you deserve.

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