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Lawsuits Emerge From Boat Fire That Killed 34

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Thirty-four people lost their lives on the California diving boat Conception. Could a law limiting the liability of the boat owners prevent them from successfully filing claims against the boat’s owners? According to one maritime legal expert, claims against boat owners and companies fail about 50% of the time due to regulatory limitations of liability set forth in an 1851 legislation known as the Limitation of Liability Act.

What is the Limitation of Liability Act?

In cases of wrongful death or personal injury on the high seas, the Limitation of Liability Act allows vessel owners to essential restrict any claim against them to the value of the boat. Since 34 families currently have claims against the owners of the Conception, and the boat is probably valued at a couple of million dollars, chances are, these grieving families will not be able to recover nearly as much money as they would have had the tragedy occurred on land.

The legislation was ratified back in 1851 and meant to protect the shipping industry from massive claims that could cripple or bankrupt it. The obvious question, then, is what value does it currently serve?

Further complicating matters is the value of the boat or, when the boat is valuated. In this case, the claimants may be limited to the post-fire value of the boat which is significantly lower than the pre-fire value of the boat. Since the post-fire value of the boat is roughly nothing, that’s precisely what the plaintiffs in this lawsuit stand to receive pending the judge’s order.

And there isn’t much that they can do about it. The law applies to all seafaring vessels on navigable water. Only in cases where the water isn’t “navigable” does the Limitation of Liability Act not apply.

Nonetheless, the federal judge presiding over the case has the ability to grant or not grant the protection of the law.

Limitations on the Limitation of Liability Act

The federal judge may waive the protection of the LLA if it can be shown that the vessel was manned by untrained or improperly trained personnel or that there was a defect that they knew about prior to the tragedy. By filing the LLA claim early, the vessel’s owners have forced the issue into federal court where the law will be interpreted by a federal judge as opposed to a jury. This is a significant advantage for the defense.

The plaintiffs are now forced into the position of conclusively showing some evidence that the ship’s owners were negligent. Here, negligence requires foreknowledge of a dangerous condition that could lead to a boat fire.

Talk to a Boat Accident Attorney Today

The Miami personal injury attorneys at the office of Alan Goldfarb, P.A. represent injured plaintiffs in boating accidents. If you’ve been injured in a boating accident, give us a call or talk to us online for a free consultation.

 

Resource:

latimes.com/california/story/2019-09-08/boat-fire-legal-analysis

https://www.goldfarbpa.com/three-u-s-companies-hit-with-multiple-wrongful-deaths-in-u-k-fire/

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