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Duck Boat, Tug Owners Seek To Limit Liability In Fatal Accident With 1851 Law

(An eyewitness on shore captures the moment of impact as a duck boat on the Delaware River is run over by a barge being pushed by a tugboat.  Photo from NTSB)

(An eyewitness on shore captures the moment of impact as a duck boat on the Delaware River is run over by a barge being pushed by a tugboat. Photo from NTSB)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Attorneys for two companies being sued over last summer’s “duck boat” accident on the Delaware River are leaning on an 1851 law to limit their legal and financial liability in the mishap that killed two Hungarian tourists (see related stories).

The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 was designed to protect shipping companies back when vessels would be away at sea for months or even years and the owner had no way to commuicate with the crew.

If there was an accident in those days, the value of the cargo was often more than the value of a shipping company.

Attorneys for Ride the Ducks Inc. are citing that law to limit the company’s liability to less than $150,000.  The owner of  the tugboat involved in the accident that left two people dead wants to cap its liability at $1.6 million, placing the entire value available to claimants at $1.75 million.

Maritime attorney Steve Gordon, who represents victims and survivors of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, calls the 160-year-old law archaic but doesn’t see it being changed any time soon.

“If Congress could not get it together enough to change it with the Deepwater Horizon event, they’ll never change this law,” Gordon muses.

Reported by Paul Kurtz, KYW Newsradio 1060.

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