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El Faro: Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability under 46 U.S.C. Sections 30505 to 30511

Posted 05 Nov 2015 by


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Sea Star Lines, doing business as Tote Maritime, the owners of the El Faro have sought to limit their liability as predicted.

What does the law say?

46 U.S. Code § 30505 – General limit of liability

(a) In General.— Except as provided in section 30506 of this title, the liability of the owner of a vessel for any claim, debt, or liability described in subsection (b) shall not exceed the value of the vessel and pending freight. If the vessel has more than one owner, the proportionate share of the liability of any one owner shall not exceed that owner’s proportionate interest in the vessel and pending freight.
(b) Claims Subject to Limitation.— Unless otherwise excluded by law, claims, debts, and liabilities subject to limitation under subsection (a) are those arising from any embezzlement, loss, or destruction of any property, goods, or merchandise shipped or put on board the vessel, any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture, done, occasioned, or incurred, without the privity or knowledge of the owner.
(c) Wages.— Subsection (a) does not apply to a claim for wages.
46 U.S. Code § 30506 – Limit of liability for personal injury or death
(a) Application.— This section applies only to seagoing vessels, but does not apply to pleasure yachts, tugs, towboats, towing vessels, tank vessels, fishing vessels, fish tender vessels, canal boats, scows, car floats, barges, lighters, or nondescript vessels.
(b) Minimum Liability.— If the amount of the vessel owner’s liability determined under section 30505 of this title is insufficient to pay all losses in full, and the portion available to pay claims for personal injury or death is less than $420 times the tonnage of the vessel, that portion shall be increased to $420 times the tonnage of the vessel. That portion may be used only to pay claims for personal injury or death.
(c) Calculation of Tonnage.— Under subsection (b), the tonnage of a self-propelled vessel is the gross tonnage without deduction for engine room, and the tonnage of a sailing vessel is the tonnage for documentation. However, space for the use of seamen is excluded.
(d) Claims Arising on Distinct Occasions.— Separate limits of liability apply to claims for personal injury or death arising on distinct occasions.
(e) Privity or Knowledge.— In a claim for personal injury or death, the privity or knowledge of the master or the owner’s superintendent or managing agent, at or before the beginning of each voyage, is imputed to the owner.
46 U.S. Code § 30507 – Apportionment of losses
If the amounts determined under sections 30505 and 30506 of this title are insufficient to pay all claims—
(1) all claimants shall be paid in proportion to their respective losses out of the amount determined under section 30505 of this title; and
(2) personal injury and death claimants, if any, shall be paid an additional amount in proportion to their respective losses out of the additional amount determined under section 30506 (b) of this title.
46 U.S. Code § 30508 – Provisions requiring notice of claim or limiting time for bringing action
(a) Application.— This section applies only to seagoing vessels, but does not apply to pleasure yachts, tugs, towboats, towing vessels, tank vessels, fishing vessels, fish tender vessels, canal boats, scows, car floats, barges, lighters, or nondescript vessels.

(b) Minimum Time Limits.— The owner, master, manager, or agent of a vessel transporting passengers or property between ports in the United States, or between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country, may not limit by regulation, contract, or otherwise the period for—

(1) giving notice of, or filing a claim for, personal injury or death to less than 6 months after the date of the injury or death; or
(2) bringing a civil action for personal injury or death to less than one year after the date of the injury or death.

(c) Effect of Failure To Give Notice.— When notice of a claim for personal injury or death is required by a contract, the failure to give the notice is not a bar to recovery if—

(1) the court finds that the owner, master, or agent of the vessel had knowledge of the injury or death and the owner has not been prejudiced by the failure;
(2) the court finds there was a satisfactory reason why the notice could not have been given; or
(3) the owner of the vessel fails to object to the failure to give the notice.

(d) Tolling of Period To Give Notice.— If a claimant is a minor or mental incompetent, or if a claim is for wrongful death, any period provided by a contract for giving notice of the claim is tolled until the earlier of—

(1) the date a legal representative is appointed for the minor, incompetent, or decedent’s estate; or
(2) 3 years after the injury or death.
46 U.S. Code § 30509 – Provisions limiting liability for personal injury or death

(a) Prohibition.—

(1) In general.— The owner, master, manager, or agent of a vessel transporting passengers between ports in the United States, or between a port in the United States and a port in a foreign country, may not include in a regulation or contract a provision limiting—

(A) the liability of the owner, master, or agent for personal injury or death caused by the negligence or fault of the owner or the owner’s employees or agents; or
(B) the right of a claimant for personal injury or death to a trial by court of competent jurisdiction.
(2) Voidness.— A provision described in paragraph (1) is void.

(b) Emotional Distress, Mental Suffering, and Psychological Injury.—

(1) In general.— Subsection (a) does not prohibit a provision in a contract or in ticket conditions of carriage with a passenger that relieves an owner, master, manager, agent, operator, or crewmember of a vessel from liability for infliction of emotional distress, mental suffering, or psychological injury so long as the provision does not limit such liability when the emotional distress, mental suffering, or psychological injury is—

(A) the result of physical injury to the claimant caused by the negligence or fault of a crewmember or the owner, master, manager, agent, or operator;
(B) the result of the claimant having been at actual risk of physical injury, and the risk was caused by the negligence or fault of a crewmember or the owner, master, manager, agent, or operator; or
(C) intentionally inflicted by a crewmember or the owner, master, manager, agent, or operator.
(2) Sexual offenses.— This subsection does not limit the liability of a crewmember or the owner, master, manager, agent, or operator of a vessel in a case involving sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape.

46 U.S. Code § 30511 – Action by owner for limitation

(a) In General.— The owner of a vessel may bring a civil action in a district court of the United States for limitation of liability under this chapter. The action must be brought within 6 months after a claimant gives the owner written notice of a claim.

(b) Creation of Fund.— When the action is brought, the owner (at the owner’s option) shall—

(1) deposit with the court, for the benefit of claimants—

(A) an amount equal to the value of the owner’s interest in the vessel and pending freight, or approved security; and
(B) an amount, or approved security, that the court may fix from time to time as necessary to carry out this chapter; or

(2) transfer to a trustee appointed by the court, for the benefit of claimants—

(A) the owner’s interest in the vessel and pending freight; and
(B) an amount, or approved security, that the court may fix from time to time as necessary to carry out this chapter.
(c) Cessation of Other Actions.— When an action has been brought under this section and the owner has complied with subsection (b), all claims and proceedings against the owner related to the matter in question shall cease.

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