Limitation of Liability Act of 1851

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Limitation of Liability Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn act to limit the Liability of Ship-Owners, and for other Purposes.
Enacted bythe 31st United States Congress
EffectiveMarch 3, 1851 (1851-03-03)
Citations
Statutes at LargeStat. 635 (Ch.43)

In United States maritime law, the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, codified as 46 U.S.C. § 30501 since February 1, 2010, states that the owner of a vessel may limit damage claims to the value of the vessel at the end of the voyage plus "pending freight", as long as the owner can prove it lacked knowledge of the problem beforehand. This Act was the subject of a 2001 United States Supreme Court case in Lewis v. Lewis & Clark Marine, Inc.

History[edit]

The Act was passed by Congress on March 3, 1851 to protect the maritime shipping industry; at the time, shipowners were subject to loss from events beyond their control such as storms and pirates, so the Act was designed to limit the shipowners' liability to the value of the vessel. Without it, American shipping was "at a competitive disadvantage" compared to other maritime countries where similar limitations applied.[1]: 260 

Section 3 of the 1851 Act states "the liability of the owner or owners of any ship or vessel ... shall in no case exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner or owners respectively, in such ship or vessel, and her freight then pending".[2] The 1851 Act was later codified as Rev. Stat. §4282–4289, with Section 3 forming Rev. Stat. §4283.

The original bill was subsequently amended many times:

  • 1871, which added Rev. Stat. §4281[3]
  • 1875, which modified Rev. Stat. §4289 with an editorial correction[4]
  • 1877, which modified Rev. Stat. §4284 with an editorial correction[5]
  • 1884, the Shipping Act of 1884, which limited an individual owner's liability to the owner's share of debts and liabilities, later codified as 46 U.S.C. Appendix Ch.8 §§189[6]
  • 1886, which modified Rev. Stat. §4289 to clarify which vessels are covered[7]
  • 1893, the Harter Act, which was later codified as 46 U.S.C. Appendix Ch.8 §§190–196[8]
  • 1935, which modified Rev. Stat. §4283 and added §4283A[9]
  • 1936, which modified Rev. Stat. §4283, §4285, and §4289; and added §4283B[10]
  • 1940, which repealed 46 U.S.C. Appendix Ch.8 §§175[11]
  • 1984, which modified Rev. Stat. §4283[12][13]
  • 1992, which modified Rev. Stat. §4283B[14][15]
  • 1993, which modified Rev. Stat. §4283B[16][17]
  • 1996, which modified Rev. Stat. §4283 and §4283B[18][19]
  • 2010, which moved the code to 46 U.S.C. § 30501[20][21]

The 1936 amendment clarified whether the act applied to foreign shipowners; previously, the 1851 Act stated the owner of "any ship or vessel" could limit their liability,[2]: §3  whether domestic or foreign, which was affirmed by an 1876 court decision.[22] The 1936 amendment made explicit the applicability to foreign shipowners, stating "The liability of the owner of any vessel, whether American or foreign ... shall not, except in the cases provided for ... exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner in such vessel, and her freight then pending".[10]

Rev. Stat. §4281–89 eventually were moved to 46 U.S.C. App. Ch. 8,[23] and then to 46 U.S.C. § 30501 in 2010.[20][21]

Invocation[edit]

Historically, the statute has been invoked to limit the liability of certain parties in the sinking of RMS Titanic (1912), the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010), and the sinking of MV Conception (2019).[24][25][26] In the case of RMS Titanic, the district court judge initially ruled that British liability of limitation law would apply,[27] but that decision was reversed by the United States Supreme Court in 1914.[28]

Recent developments[edit]

The Deepwater Horizon Survivors' Fairness Act[29] was introduced in the Senate and sought to amend the Limitation of Liability Act to make an exception for personal injuries and wrongful death claims related to the explosion and destruction of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform.[30] It was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The Congressional Budget Office provided a cost estimate.[31]

Parallel bills were introduced simultaneously in the House and Senate in September 2021 to amend the Limitation of Liability Act.[32] As originally written, the bills would take effect retroactively to September 2, 2019 and apply to the sinking of MV Conception.[33]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Maritime Limitations of Liability: A study in conflict of laws". Duke Law Journal. 1962 (2): 259–271. Spring 1962. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b Stat. 635 (Ch.43)
  3. ^ 16 Stat. 458 (Ch.100)
  4. ^ 18 Stat. 320 (Ch.80)
  5. ^ 19 Stat. 251 (Ch.69)
  6. ^ 23 Stat. 57 (Ch.121§18)
  7. ^ 24 Stat. 80 (Ch.421§4)
  8. ^ 27 Stat. 445 (Ch.105)
  9. ^ 49 Stat. 960 (Ch.804)
  10. ^ a b 49 Stat. 1479 (Ch.521)
  11. ^ 54 Stat. 1028 (Ch.777)
  12. ^ 98 Stat. 2306 (Ch.521)
  13. ^ Pub.L. 98–498
  14. ^ 106 Stat. 5068
  15. ^ Pub.L. 102–587
  16. ^ 107 Stat. 2425
  17. ^ Pub.L. 103–206
  18. ^ 110 Stat. 3984
  19. ^ Pub.L. 104–324 (text) (PDF)
  20. ^ a b Pub.L. 109–304 (text) (PDF)
  21. ^ a b 120 Stat. 1512
  22. ^ Levinson v. Oceanic Steam Navigation Co., 15 Fed. Cas. 422 (C.C.N.Y. 1876).
  23. ^ "Chapter 8-Limitation of Vessel Owner's Liability". United States Congress, House of Representatives. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  24. ^ Gutiérrez, Norman A. Martínez (2011-02-26). Limitation of Liability in International Maritime Conventions: The Relationship Between Global Limitation Conventions and Particular Liability Regimes. Taylor & Francis. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-415-60140-5. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  25. ^ The Lawyer and Banker and Central Law Journal. Lawyers and Bankers' Corp. 1913. p. 348.
  26. ^ Jones, Ashby (May 13, 2010). "Transocean: Limit Our Liability to $27 Million - Law Blog - WSJ". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  27. ^ Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. v. Mellor, 209 Fed. 501, 512 (S.D.N.Y. 1913).
  28. ^ Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. v. Mellor, 233 U.S. 718 (1914).
  29. ^ S. 183 (2011-2012)
  30. ^ "Bill Text, S.183.IS, 112th Congress (2011-2012)". The Library of Congress. Archived from the original on July 14, 2012. Retrieved July 3, 2011.
  31. ^ "Congressional Budget Estimate Cost Estimate for S. 183, Deepwater Horizon Survivors' Fairness Act" (PDF). Congressional Budget Office. June 17, 2011. Retrieved July 3, 2011.
  32. ^ H.R. 5329 and S. 2805
  33. ^ Dazio, Stephanie (September 22, 2021). "Bill would change maritime liability rules after Conception boat fire off California coast". PE. Associated Press. Retrieved 1 November 2021.