Carbajal, Feinstein introduce bill to reform liability rules for maritime accidents

Paso Robles Daily News
Paso Robles Daily News
The burned-out hull of the Santa Barbara-based Conception dive boat shortly before it sank near Santa Cruz Island – Ventura County Fire Department photo.

Would retroactively apply to families of 34 who died in 2019 Conception boat fire

–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 Jan. 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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