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Limitation of Liability

When a vessel is or may be at fault in an accident, without the privity or knowledge of the owner, the owner may be able to limit his liability in the accident to the value of the vessel at the end of the voyage, plus the amount of money owed for the freight charges.  While the law that allows the possibility of limitation was enacted to  encourage investment in commercial shipping, it has been repeatedly held to apply as well to non-commercial vessels of all sizes, even including personal watercraft (jet skis).  Because the value of the vessel at the end of the voyage can be zero, limitation actions have the potential to completely deny recovery to injured parties and are carefully scrutinized by the Courts.  The limitation statute provides an unusually short period of time from the receipt of the notice of a claim to the filing of a limitation action - a jurisdictional time limit that is often overlooked by non-maritime counsel. The limitation law only allows a vessel owner 6 months to file his limitation action in federal court from the date that the vessel owner received written notice that the injured party is holding the owner liable.  Therefore, in any case involving a vessel accident, it is vital that the vessel ownership interests seek the advice of qualified maritime attorneys immediately.