The 1851 Shipowners' Limitation of Liability Act: Should the Courts Deliver the Final Blow?
White, Mark A.
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This comment identifies the 1851 Shipowners' Limitation of Liability Act as an enduring problem within federal maritime law and suggests that the courts may be able to exercise their powers of judicial review to strike it down. The Act was initially adopted at a time when American shipowners were in dire need of protection from potentially ruinous lawsuits. The Act, although hastily drawn, was imperative to the growth of the fledgling American shipping industry. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, numerous forms of liability insurance had been created and America saw the advent of the corporate form. These creations gave shipowners layers of protection never before seen and made the Act no longer necessary to effectuate its' original purpose. The Act, however, has endured the years, and although many have called for its outright repeal, the legislature has remained stagnant in their duty to do so. As it stands today, the Act does little more than to frustrate the needs of the victims harmed by the negligence of corporate shipowners. The purposes of the Act have long ceased to exist and it is now time to abandon the Act. This comment explains that the Act is unconstitutional and may be struck down by the courts on equal protection and due process grounds. Along the way, cases are cited to illuminate the horrendous effects the Act has had on the victims of marine accidents and the injustice that is inherent in this abhorrent Act.