JD Irving Ltd v. Siemens Canada Ltd (The SPM 125) 2016 FC 287 (Federal Court of Canada)
The shipowners, JDI, engaged a firm of marine consultants to prepare stability calculations in respect of the loading of a cargo of large industrial equipment on and off the barge SPM125. During the loading process, the cargo was damaged and the owner of the cargo brought an action against the carrier claiming damages (CAD$45,000,000). The cargo owner also brought an action against the firm of marine consultants and the naval architect (who was the principal of that firm and had carried out the calculations) for the same amount.
The question that arose in this case was whether the firm of consultants had a right to limit their liability under the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976, as amended by the Protocol of 1996, which has been incorporated into Canadian law by Part 3 of the Marine Liability Act.
Article 1(4) of the Convention stipulates:
If any claims set out in Article 2 are made against any person for whose act, neglect or default the shipowner or salvor is responsible, such person shall be entitled to avail himself of the limitation of liability provided for in this Convention.
There is no firm judicial reasoning on this point and differing opinions have been expressed in text books. The Court has subscribed to the view that Article 1(4) would afford limitation to a person if the shipowner or salvor has vicarious liability for the actions of that person. This would be the case when the negligence of a master or crew member gives rise to a claim by a third party against the owner or salvor. The crew or master in that case would accordingly have a right to limit their liability under the Convention. However, the relationship between an employer and an independent contractor would not usually give rise to a claim for vicarious liability and on that basis, such contractors are not afforded a right to limit their liability under Article 1(4) of the Convention. Applying this reasoning, it was held that the marine consultants in the present case could not enjoy the right of limitation.
The decision is a significant one as it adopts a new yardstick in determining whose actions a shipowner and/or salvor is responsible for in the context of the application of Article 1(4) of the Limitation Convention 1976 as amended by 1996 Protocol. The relevant party is able to limit its liability if the shipowner and/or salvor has vicarious liability for the actions of that party. Apart from marine consultants, classification societies, freight forwarders and logistics experts are likely to fall under this category. The judgment is not binding on English courts but obviously its reasoning needs to be considered carefully when the issue does arise, in addition, it sends a strong warning to the liability insurers of independent contractors as lack of the prospect of limitation would mean a huge increase in the exposure that they might face!