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Maritime and offshore work is a dangerous job. Full stop. Workers not only must operate at full capacity at odd hours of the day and night, but they also face a variety of dangers, both natural and manmade.

A personal injury lawyer says offshore and maritime employees face a unique set of challenges and risks on a daily basis. The work is physically demanding, but close contact with heavy and large equipment can all too often lead to serious personal injury due to an employee or employer’s negligence. Maritime workers can also find themselves the victim of catastrophic incidents such as slips and falls, oil rig explosions, and fires.

It’s for this reason the Limitation of Liability Act was put into place by shipping companies which is nothing less than to protect them from gratuitous personal injury lawsuits. But is the Limitation Act still required in 2023? According to a recent report by Minnesota Lawyer, a legal trade publication, some Boston area lawyers say yes, and others say no.

While it makes total sense that those who defend personal injury claims from maritime accidents view the Limitation of Liability Act as an essential tool in protecting the U.S. shipping industry, many personal injury plaintiff’s attorneys display a visceral hatred toward what they view as a completely outdated, corporate-friendly law.

Says an attorney from Gloucester, Mass., the law has protected maritime workers to the extent that they are able to bring a lawsuit against the vessel, but it’s also protected the vessel’s owner to the extent that it seriously limited the values of both the vessel itself and the goods it’s hauling.

That said, we now live in an era where the corporations that own the vessels have plenty of their own insurance. This means the Limitation Act is no longer protecting the vessel or its workers necessarily; it’s instead protecting only the insurance companies.

On the other hand, a South Chatham, Mass. lawyer says he does not understand how a total repeal of the Limitation Act could do any good. There’s nothing to put in the law, which originates from 1851, in its place.

Meanwhile, a North Kingston, Rhode Island attorney says that the Limitation Act is essentially “anachronistic” since it does not include indemnity and protection insurance policy limits within the limitation fund. It’s with that in mind the law doesn’t need to be abolished but instead brought up to date.

The point of the act was to protect U.S. shipping and to place it on par with the Spanish, French, and British, who then ruled the seas. This was important at the time, but eventually, these protections ran counter to the “administration of justice.”

Is There No Desire for Change in DC?

Says Minnesota Lawyer, back in 2010, the Maritime Law Association of the U.S. was able to pass a resolution in favor of the Congress that adopted the 1976 International Convention of Liability for Maritime Claims. The agreement makes way for the limitation of ship owner liability which is conditioned on the owner creating a guaranteed cash fund that’s greater than what would otherwise be available under the Limitation Act following an accident that greatly reduced the vessel’s value.

However, most attorneys involved in the legislation attest that Congress doesn’t seem to have the desire to change the more than a century-and-a-half-old Limitation Act law. The past president of the MLA, who stresses that he’s expressing his personal views and not those of the association as a whole, pointed out that in the past few years, numerous maritime calamities have provided plenty of opportunities for Congress to revamp the Limitation Act. Yet they still refuse to touch it.

Says the former president, Congress most definitely had a prime opportunity to change the law in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf Spill disaster. While the former president is strongly in favor of the adoption of the 1976 International Convention, he doubts it’s going to happen anytime soon. After all, he went on, Washington legislators have a tough time agreeing if the sky is blue.

Yet another Boston lawyer who, for more than 20 years, has worked with the American Association of Justice and other similar organizations to try and repeal the Limitation Act says that Congress does not have the “appetite” for dismantling the antiquated law. If anything, the lawyer says, there’s lots of opposition to amending the law in a way that would be meaningful to both vessel owners and the maritime workers who risk their lives on them day in and day out.

If anything, the law is said to be utilized by vessel corporate owners as a weapon that limits their liability and to prevent legitimate claims from being filed in the first place. If the world were a perfect place, the Limitation Act would be repealed, the Boston Lawyer added.