Offshore InjuryBlog

What Mariners Need to Know About Limitation Actions

All too often, companies can put their maritime workers in direct danger—and hide behind outdated laws when it comes down to liability. The story of the El Faro should serve as a warning to mariners. Sadly, the ship sunk earlier this month just a few days after leaving port when it sailed right into Hurricane Joaquin. The ship’s owners allowed El Faro to head towards the storm—despite receiving several warnings prior to leaving port.

How the El Faro Relates to a Nineteenth-Century Law

Even though Joaquin was initially labeled a Category One hurricane, it was bumped up to a Category Three with enough time for the companies who owned and operated the El Faro to make changes to the ship’s route. This, and the history the ship had of losing power while sailing during hurricanes, should leave the company liable for the lives of the 33 offshore workers lost at sea. But there is a catch. There is the possibility defendants will file a limitation action, which would allow them to essentially avoid taking responsible for their role.

What the Limited Liability Act of 1851 Says

The law the defendants may try to use in this case comes from 1851. The act says that a shipping company may only be forced to pay the remaining value of the ship and cargo following a disaster. It may also be based on the tonnage of the vessel. In the case of the El Faro—and similar incidents—there is likely no financial value remaining. With liability potentially limited to $1 million, that would mean each crew member would be able to receive less than $30,000—which would be devastating and unjust for family members and loved ones.

Originally, the purpose of the act was to help promote the growth of American shipping.

Now, under this law, any commercial ship owner may claim limitation of liability in cases involving casualty to the value of the vessel. In general, if a shipping company loses a vessel in a similar manner to the El Faro, they can attempt to invoke this unfair law. If approved, the insurance company that provides their coverage would not be required to compensate the families of the crew who lost their lives at sea. There, however, is a stipulation for ship owners: They must have lacked knowledge about the problem that caused the issue beforehand. In the case of the El Faro, it appears the owners knew about the engine damage, aging of the ship, and oncoming hurricane. Despite this, they may still argue a lack of knowledge for the cause of the accident.

Why You Need a Skilled Maritime Lawyer on Your Side

It is crucial for maritime workers and their families to understand their rights in similar cases.

Knowing that a negligent company may try to avoid liability, individuals must be informed about their legal options. Even if the Limited Liability Act of 1851 is used by defendants that does not mean it will stand up in a court of law or that the stipulations of the act are met. With the right attorney on your side, you can fight the legality of this act and seek to hold a negligent company responsible for their reckless actions and decisions.

Due to the complexities of limitation actions, it requires a truly knowledgeable and proven maritime attorney who has a firm grasp on the laws to represent you. They can demonstrate the unjustness of such a law and work to protect your rights and the rights of your loved ones after a devastating incident. With a skilled offshore accident lawyer on your side, you don’t have to worry about being denied compensation you are owed.

Arnold & Itkin Steps in for El Faro Families

Arnold & Itkin is deeply saddened by the sinking of the El Faro but proud to be demanding justice on behalf of the U.S. families who are suffering in the wake of this tragic incident. Kurt Arnold, one of the lead offshore attorney at firm, commented, “We will be asking the defendants to do the right thing for the men and women who served them. We hope they will not seek protection under this ridiculous law—to do would be a disservice to the memory of the brave people who served aboard the El Faro.” However, we at Arnold & Itkin LLP are ready if the defendants do attempt to minimize their responsibilities through this antiquated law. Our legal team is here to stand up on behalf of our clients and demonstrate the unjustness of this outdated act.

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