|The diving boat MV Conception burns off the coast of Santa Cruz island, California. Photo released by the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office.|
Bringing this filing to light is not to knock the petitioners. Their legal move is smart and routine. But it raises to light one of the many historic and arguably anachronistic legal liability limitations that are allowing seagoing corporations effective immunity from tort, and therefore impunity in practices regarding physical safety, worker rights, and environmental protection, as just recently rounded up by Hasan Minhaj on Patriot Act.
|Deepwater Horizon families visit Congress, 2010. (Nancy Pelosi CC BY 2.0.)|
An excellent overview of the liability act can be found in the background of a comment by Christopher S. Morin, The 1851 Shipowners' Limitation of Liability Act: A Recent State Court Trend to Exercise Jurisdiction over Limitation Rights, 28:2 Stetson L. Rev. 419 (1998). Morin, a U.S. Navy veteran and now a Florida attorney, explained (at 422, footnotes omitted):
The primary impetus for enacting the Limitation Act was to promote American shipbuilding, commerce, and investment in the merchant marine industry, placing the United States shipping industry on a more competitive footing with those foreign countries already benefiting from forms of limitation. Before comprehensive insurance protection, it was important for investors and owners to have the security that their liability would not exceed the value of their investment—namely the value of the vessel. Thus, in its most basic form, the Limitation Act permitted vessel owners and bareboat charterers to limit their liability to the vessel's post-accident value.The act was successful for its time, Morin wrote. But "[m]ore recently, many"—"[c]ourts, lawmakers, and environmentalists alike"—"have criticized the Limitation Act as an outdated and unnecessary tool in the modern insured maritime industry" (p. 423, footnotes omitted).
Here from the Free Law Project is In re Truth Aquatics, Inc., No. 2:19-cv-07693 (C.D. Cal. filed Sept. 5, 2019).