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Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims

written by: domanconsulting • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 9/15/2010

Maritime claims have long plagued both plaintiffs and defendants, especially on issues surrounding the limitation of liability. This article provides an insight into the Convention on the Limitation of liability for Maritime Claims.

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    The Convention on the Limitation of liability for Maritime Claims was signed into law by the International Maritime Organisation in November 19, 1976 and deals with, as its title suggests, the extent to which parties may be liable for a civil claim against them for damages pertaining to the loss of life, personal injury or damage to property – or any loss in general - arising as a result of their own action or lack thereof. The Convention was commissioned in response to the need for an over-arching act that would put an end to disputes over such liability.

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    Convention on Limitation

    The “limitation” element of the act is a response to the fact that there will, inevitably, be varying degrees of liability for any kind of injury or loss, a recognition that there is great variation between cases and that no two incidents are exactly alike. Therefore, it is important to have a balance of responsibility in all such cases. The presence of the Convention is a vital element in steering any investigation into whatever incidents may cause the above mentioned losses. Prior to this Convention, there was no formal, specific provision in maritime law for administrating the exact level of responsibility and liability for losses at sea. A limitation convention did come into action in 1957, but was far less firmly defined than the new one.

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    Who Benefits from the Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims?

    As well as the owners, charterers, managers and operators of seagoing ships, other people benefiting from a convention placing limitations of liability included insurers who dealt with the above, as they found themselves having to pay out less. For example, on a ship with a gross tonnage under 300 tonnes, the liability of carriers in terms of claims for loss of life or injury to $1,000,000, and claims for damage to property at half of that.

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    Boat Junkyard Image: FlickR, Boat Junkyard, by John Lloyd

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    A Case brought under the Convention on the Limitation of liability for Maritime Claims

    An example of the operation of the Convention for Limitation of Liability as pertaining to maritime claims where injury is concerned is the case of Isen vs Simms, heard in 2006, where Dr Stephen Simms brought a case against a friend, William Isen, for an incident that took place as the pair were removing a boat from the sea for preparation to transport it. Isen was attempting to fasten a bungee cord to hold in place the boat’s engine cover when he lost his hold on it and, flying loose, the end of the cord caught Simms in the eye. Simms and his wife Marla brought a personal injury claim against Isen for $2,200,000.

    The Decision in the Case

    The judge hearing the case found that the transportation of the boat was an act sufficiently connected with pleasure craft navigation to consider that it was covered by the Convention and thus limited Isen’s liability for the incident, ruling that as the craft was lighter than 300 gross tonnes, the maximum that Dr and Mrs Simms could sue for was $1,000,000. This is just one example, but others have occurred that have demonstrated that the overall clarity of such matters has been significantly benefited by the Convention.