Carbajal, Feinstein Introduce Bill to Reform Liability Rules for Maritime Accident Compensation

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Source: Office of Rep. Carbajal

Congressman Salud Carbajal and Senator Dianne Feinstein today introduced the Small Passenger Vessel Liability Fairness Act, a bill to reform maritime liability rules in response to the 2019 Conception boat fire that killed 34 people.

The Carbajal-Feinstein bill updates an 1851 law that can prevent maritime accident victims and their families from receiving compensation from those responsible for the accident. The terms of the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 stipulates that the owner of the Conception may not be held financially liable for any losses incurred as a result of the fire – including loss of life – because the boat had no value after it was destroyed.

The bill introduced today, which was drafted in consultation with the Coast Guard and the Justice Department, would require owners of small passenger vessels to be held legally responsible, including by requiring compensation, notwithstanding the value of the boat. The bill would retroactively apply to the Conception tragedy.

“Two years ago, the Conception Boat Fire took 34 precious lives. The victim’s families are currently being denied compensation for those wrongful deaths because of an antiquated and unfair law,” said Rep. Carbajal. “I am proud to work with Senator Feinstein to right this wrong and help the victims’ families get the compensation and justice they deserve.”

“The families of those who perished in the tragic Conception boat fire have filed claims against the owners of the boat for violating federal safety rules, but they may not receive any compensation because of a 170-year-old law that doesn’t account for modern tourism such as commercial dive boats,” said Senator Feinstein. “Our bill would fix this egregious oversight and allow the families to receive recompense from the boat’s owner.”

Legislation authored by Rep. Carbajal and Senator Feinstein, the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act, became law in January 2021. That bill focused exclusively on improving safety features in small vessels in order to prevent future tragedies. The bill introduced today is needed to reform liability laws to ensure proper compensation for the families of victims is possible.


Rep. Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th congressional district, encompassing Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and part of Ventura County. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee, Agriculture Committee, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he serves as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

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Byzantium Sep 23, 2021 10:20 AM
Carbajal, Feinstein Introduce Bill to Reform Liability Rules for Maritime Accident Compensation

Neither Feinstein nor Carbajal have the chops to write this legislation - most likely crafted by their friendly trial lawyers association, or whatever euphemism they go by today, who remain part of their deep pocket campaign funders. Suspect Carbajal and Feinstein just put their names on it, like much proposed legislation coming from both sides of the aisle. Flying a flag of convenience only.

Babycakes Sep 23, 2021 09:28 AM
Carbajal, Feinstein Introduce Bill to Reform Liability Rules for Maritime Accident Compensation

AlexBlue: This law is for lawyers, and many lawyers are looking to make a buck off tragedies. As a hero to many with whom I do not agree is quoted as saying, "Never let a tragedy go to waste." Carbajal/Feinstein & Co are certainly following this terrible advice. Let's honor the victims and not the almighty dollar. My prayers to the families of those who lost their loved ones in the Conception tragedy.

FernaldPoint93108 Sep 22, 2021 03:24 PM
Carbajal, Feinstein Introduce Bill to Reform Liability Rules for Maritime Accident Compensation

Sounds like a good law though the retroactive component might be problematic. Although the Constitution generally does not prohibit nonpunitive retroactive legislation, commentators and courts have noted that such legislation raises fundamental concerns about fairness because it imposes liability when it is too late for regulated parties to alter their behavior.

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