Press Releases

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

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Salud Carbajal (both D-Calif.) 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 Feinstein-Carbajal 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 stipulate 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.

“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,” Feinstein said. “Our bill would make the law consistent with the modern economy and technology and allow the families to receive recompense from the boat’s owner.

“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,” Carbajal said. “I am proud to work with Senator Feinstein to right this wrong and help the victims’ families get the compensation and justice they deserve.”

Legislation authored by Senator Feinstein and Congressman Carbajal, 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.