The owners of the Conception, the dive boat that sank in flames early Monday morning with the loss of 34 lives filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, September 5, seeking exemption from or limitation of liability under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851.
Though press reports refer to it as “obscure,” the law is well known to shipowners and their insurers and was invoked by the TOTE companies in the El Faro case and by Transocean following the Deepwater Horizon case.
The Conception suit has been brought by Truth Aquatics, Inc. and Glen Richard Fritzler and Dana Jeanne Fritzler, individually and as
trustees of the Fritzler FamilY Trust dtd 7/27/92, as owners and/or owners pro hac vice of the dive vessel Conception, Official Number 638133.
In their filing, the plaintiffs say that after the fire, only the wreck and wreckage of the Conception was recovered, and was transported via barge to Ventura Country, where it is presently located.
The Limitation of Liability Act gives a vessel owner the right to limit its liability in a maritime casualty (whether it be a claim for cargo damage, collision, personal injury or death) to the post-casualty value of the vessel, plus pending freight
The filing asserts that the wreck and wreckage of the Conception was determined to have zero residual value and the Conception is a total loss due to the fire and has zero value as a result of the fire.
By filing in federal court before any filings have been made in a state court Truth Aquatics may have headed off some potentially costly claims under California law
By commencing a limitation proceeding in a federal district court under the 1851 act anyone who can make a claim against the company will be served with notice the company is asserting it is not liable for damages and any victims will have a limited amount of time to challenge that claim and will have to make that claim in the federal court where the plaintiffs filed suit.
In an Instagram posting this morning Truth Aquatics said “Regarding the lawsuit, as we are learning, this is another unfortunate side of these tragedies …insurance companies and numerous stakeholders convene and activate a legal checklist. The timing is on them.”