Limitation of Liability Act
46 USC section 183

Below is the current version of the Limitation of Liability Act (46 USC section 183). This copy was taken from the U.S. House of Representatives Law Library web site January 31, 1997. This section had its origin on 3 March 1851 and the various changes since then are listed at the bottom. The Bright Field crash resulted in potentially hundreds of millions of dollars of damages, injuries, and lost revenue. Its owners rapidly cited this law as method of limiting their liability to the value of the ship and its cargo.

46 USC APPENDIX - SHIPPING Sec. 183 01/16/96

TITLE 46 - SHIPPING TITLE 46, APPENDIX - SHIPPING CHAPTER 8 - LIMITATION OF VESSEL OWNER'S LIABILITY -HEAD- Sec. 183. Amount of liability -STATUTE- (a) Privity or knowledge of owner; limitation The liability of the owner of any vessel, whether American or foreign, for any embezzlement, loss, or destruction by any person of any property, goods, or merchandise shipped or put on board of such vessel, or for any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, loss, damage, or forfeiture, done, occasioned, or incurred, without the privity or knowledge of such owner or owners, shall not, except in the cases provided for in subsection (b) of this section, exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner in such vessel, and her freight then pending.
(b) Seagoing vessels; losses not covered in full In the case of any seagoing vessel, if the amount of the owner's liability as limited under subsection (a) of this section is insufficient to pay all losses in full, and the portion of such amount applicable to the payment of losses in respect of loss of life or bodily injury is less than $420 per ton of such vessel's tonnage, such portion shall be increased to an amount equal to $420 per ton, to be available only for the payment of losses in respect of loss of life or bodily injury. If such portion so increased is insufficient to pay such losses in full, they shall be paid therefrom in proportion to their respective amounts.
(c) Tonnage of seagoing vessels For the purposes of this section the tonnage of a seagoing steam or motor vessel shall be her gross tonnage without deduction on account of engine room, and the tonnage of a seagoing sailing vessel shall be her registered tonnage: Provided, That there shall not be included in such tonnage any space occupied by seamen or apprentices and appropriated to their use.
(d) Loss of life or bodily injury arising on distinct occasions The owner of any such seagoing vessel shall be liable in respect of loss of life or bodily injury arising on distinct occasions to the same extent as if no other loss of life or bodily injury had arisen.
(e) Privity imputed to owner In respect of loss of life or bodily injury the privity or knowledge of the master of a seagoing vessel or of the superintendent or managing agent of the owner thereof, at or prior to the commencement of each voyage, shall be deemed conclusively the privity or knowledge of the owner of such vessel.
(f) ''Seagoing vessel'' defined As used in subsections (b), (c), (d), and (e) of this section and in section 183b of this Appendix, the term ''seagoing vessel'' shall not include pleasure yachts, tugs, towboats, towing vessels, tank vessels, fishing vessels or their tenders, self-propelled lighters, nondescript self-propelled vessels, canal boats, scows, car floats, barges, lighters, or nondescript non-self-propelled vessels, even though the same may be seagoing vessels within the meaning of such term as used in section 188 of this Appendix, as amended. -SOURCE- (R.S. Sec. 4283; Aug. 29, 1935, ch. 804, Sec. 1, 49 Stat. 960; June 5, 1936, ch. 521, Sec. 1, 49 Stat. 1479; Oct. 19, 1984, Pub. L. 98-498, title II, Sec. 213(a), 98 Stat. 2306.) -COD- CODIFICATION
R.S. Sec. 4283 derived from act Mar. 3, 1851, ch. 43, Sec. 3, 9 Stat. 635.

-MISC3- AMENDMENTS 1984 - Subsec. (b). Pub. L. 98-498 substituted ''$420'' for ''$60'' in two places. 1936 - Act June 5, 1936, amended section generally, provided, that when owner's limited liability is insufficient to pay losses in full and the portion applicable to payment for loss of life or injury is less than $60 per ton, such portion be increased to $60 per ton, and if increased portion is insufficient, proportionate payments be made, inserted provision imputing privity or knowledge of master, superintendent, or managing agent to owner, construed ''seagoing vessel'' for purposes of section 183b of this Appendix as well as this section, and designated the amended provisions of section as subsecs. (a) to (f). 1935 - Act Aug. 29, 1935, inserted provisions fixing total liability of owner of sea-going vessel, whether American or foreign, other than tugs, barges, or fishing vessels, for entire loss of life or injuries caused without his fault or privity at not less than $60 for each ton of such vessel or the amount of value of his interest in such vessel and her freight then pending, if the latter be a greater amount; fixed tonnage of steam or motor vessel as her gross tonnage, without deduction for engine room, and tonnage of a sailing vessel as her registered tonnage, not including space for seamen; and imposed on owners, liability for losses of life or injury on distinct occasions to the same extent as if no other loss or injury had arisen.
EFFECTIVE DATE OF 1984 AMENDMENT Section 213(b) of Pub. L. 98-498 provided that: ''The amendment made by subsection (a) (amending this section) shall apply to incidents occurring after the date of enactment of this Act (Oct. 19, 1984).''

-CROSS- CROSS REFERENCES Apportionment of compensation, see section 184 of this Appendix. Individual liability of shipowner, see section 189 of this Appendix. Liability of master and owners for damage to passengers, see section 491 of this Appendix. Longshore and harbor workers' compensation actions, amount of recovery not limited by this section, see section 948 of Title 33, Navigation and Navigable Waters. Petition for limitation of liability, see section 185 of this Appendix. Remedies reserved, see section 187 of this Appendix. Section unaffected by sections 190 to 195 of this Appendix, see section 196 of this Appendix. Surrender of vessel, see section 185 of this Appendix. Vessels within application of this section, see section 188 of this Appendix.

-SECREF- SECTION REFERRED TO IN OTHER SECTIONS This section is referred to in sections 185, 187, 188, 196, 1308 of this Appendix; title 16 section 1443; title 33 section 2718; title 42 section 9607; title 46 section 14305.

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