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At Sea Over the ‘Admiralty Trap’


— May 3, 2004

A petition to invoke a long-standing but little-known provision of federal maritime law has been filed in U.S. District Court to stop the filing of a wrongful death suit on behalf of a 36-year-old Texas man who drowned in a paddleboat accident in the Atlantic Ocean while on vacation last year in Palm Beach County.

If successful the action would limit the paddleboat owner’s potential damages in the suit to an amount equivalent to the value of the boat — $1,200.

The federal law, the Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, was designed to encourage investment in commercial shipping in the 19th century by shielding vessel owners from large judgments in what was then a highly risky field of enterprise.

In modern times, the law has led to some bizarre results, and has been harshly criticized by the courts. But as the owner of a small, 30+ year old sailboat, I was sure glad to learn about it. (No wonder boat insurance is so cheap . . . .) Anywho, details are here from the Miami Daily Business Review.


A petition to invoke a long-standing but little-known provision of federal maritime law has been filed in U.S. District Court to stop the filing of a wrongful death suit on behalf of a 36-year-old Texas man who drowned in a paddleboat accident in the Atlantic Ocean while on vacation last year in Palm Beach County.

If successful the action would limit the paddleboat owner’s potential damages in the suit to an amount equivalent to the value of the boat — $1,200.

The federal law, the Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, was designed to encourage investment in commercial shipping in the 19th century by shielding vessel owners from large judgments in what was then a highly risky field of enterprise.

In modern times, the law has led to some bizarre results, and has been harshly criticized by the courts. But as the owner of a small, 30+ year old sailboat, I was sure glad to learn about it. (No wonder boat insurance is so cheap . . . .) Anywho, details are here from the Miami Daily Business Review.

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