Most Florida boat accident victims do not know there is a law on the books which allows boat owners to sue them in Federal court! The goal of such lawsuits is to obtain a ruling that either exonerates the boat owner from wrong doing or limit the amount the injured in the boating accident could receive in compensation. The Shipowners’ Limitation of Liability Act passed by Congress in 1851 allows just that. Most people are also unaware this federal law also allows the boat owner to pick the court where the lawsuit must take place. Let’s assume you were injured in a boating accident and your lawyer files the case in the local state court. Under the Act, the boat owner’s lawyer can file a lawsuit in Federal court which could be hundreds of miles from where you live. The federal judge will then order the state court to relinquish jurisdiction requiring you to re-file your case in the federal court where the boat owner selected.
The original purpose of the case was to promote American shipbuilding in a time where insurance was not common. The idea behind the law was Americans would enter the shipping business if there existed an incentive in place to limit their liability to the ship value should an accident occur. Times have changed and most boat owners have liability insurance. However, the law is still on the books. There is, however, good news for Florida boat accident injury victims. The Eleventh Federal Circuit Court has taken a very hostile view of this act calling it “hopelessly anachronistic”. Through the years, the Eleventh Circuit issued multiple legal options which have eroded the competitive edge given boat owners by the Act. What has become known as the “Signal Claimant Exception” is one such instance.