The Importance of Timely Filing a Claim in Any Limitation Action If a Worker is Injured in an Incident Involving a Vessel

Published by The Pellegrin Firm January 31, 2021

The Uniform Statute of Limitations for Maritime Torts establishes a three-year statute of limitations for claims arising from injury occurring on navigable waters. The Uniform Statute applies to actions under the Jones Act, as well as to claims by seamen for injuries based on unseaworthiness of a vessel and claims for any other party’s negligence arising under general maritime law. The statute is codified at 46 U.S.C.A. §  30106.

However, injured workers and attorneys have to be vigilant even before the three-year date anniversary of the injury arrives. The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, codified at 46 U.S. Code § 30506, states that the owner of a vessel may limit damage claims to the value of the vessel at the end of the voyage plus “pending freight,” as long as the owner can prove it lacked knowledge of any problem with the vessel before the voyage began. In practice, courts rarely apply the Limitation of Liability Act to limit recovery of injured workers in the twenty-first century. Attorneys for injured workers can usually make a plausible case that any unseaworthiness of the vessel was within the “privity and knowledge” of the vessel owner.

Still, injured workers can find their claims for damages extinguished by limitation actions, even before three years, if they fail to file a claim before the deadline set by the court hearing the limitation action.

This is what happened in Collins v. Double J. Marine, L.L.C., 802 F. App’x 843 (5th Cir. 2020), a case from last year. On February 16, 2016, the M/V MISS SYLVIA struck the M/V ATLANTIC GRACE. The owners of the M/V MISS SYLVIA quickly filed a limitation action. The court hearing the limitation action ordered that all potential claimants bring claims against the shipowners by September  23, 2016, and that any actions brought after that date would be dismissed as untimely. After waiting several months beyond this date until May 2017, the owners of the M/V MISS SYLVIA moved for a default judgment dismissing all unfiled claims. The shipowners settled with all claimants who timely filed actions on September 27, 2018, and the limitation action was closed on November 26, 2018. A worker who was aboard the M/V ATLANTIC GRACE, alleging injury from the collision of the vessels, filed suit against the owners of the M/V MISS SYLVIA after the limitation was closed but just before the three-year anniversary of the accident. The U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans found the district court properly dismissed the claim as untimely. The shipowners published notice of the limitation action as required, and while the shipowners had reason to know Collins was a witness to the accident, they had no reason to know that Mr. Roosevelt was injured and a potential claimant in the accident.