The History of the Limited Liability Act
In 1851, Congress signed the Limited Liability Act into law in order to protect the then-young United States’ growing maritime industry. The point of the law was to protect shipowners from being held liable for damage or disasters that occur at sea without their knowledge. For example, if a ship captain steered into a storm without the knowledge or instruction of his employers, then they should not be held liable for his negligence—or, as the law states, compensation should be limited to “the value of the interest of such owner in such vessel.”
However, in a world without satellites, long-distance communication, or even simple radios, lack of prior knowledge was assumed. That is no longer the case. Shipowners are more than capable of getting real-time updates from their ships, meaning they are always aware of a ship’s heading and a captain’s intent—and they are always capable of instructing the ship from remote locations on the mainland.
TOTE’s Invocation of Outdated Laws
Despite these clear facts, TOTE Maritime, the owner of the sunken El Faro, is invoking the Limited Liability Act of 1851 to protect itself from the lawsuits being prepared against them today. If allowed, the motion would limit compensation to about $400,000 per bereaved family—a fraction of what they would be entitled to.
In the year 2016, Attorney Kurt Arnold of Arnold & Itkin is pleading with lawmakers to address this old-fashioned law. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, has already spoken out against the use of this law to protect contemporary maritime shipping companies and shipowners. As a leading member of the Senate Commerce Committee, he is in a key position to change this law once and for all. Our attorney has publicly urged Sen. Nelson to act, allowing these families to seek true justice.
The El Faro went missing in early October after sailing directly into Hurricane Joaquin. It was found a little over a month later, but its 33 missing crewmembers are presumed dead. Arnold & Itkin has filed claims to block their motion to limit compensation, but TOTE’s attempt to limit compensation only a few days after the discovery of the wreckage speaks loudly about their intent. Our firm hopes lawmakers act quickly on behalf of justice.