MarIus 541: Shipowners’ vicarious liability under English and Norwegian law With an eye to technical failure of autonomous ships
Rederiorganisering og ansvar – rettslige utviklingstrekk
Forfatter: professor Trond Solvang
MarIus 541: Rederiorganisering og ansvar – rettslige utviklingstrekk
The topic of a shipowner’s vicarious liability for the faults of its servants is fairly well covered under both Norwegian (and Nordic) and English law. The relevant legal sources are however somewhat dated and the practical reality of shipping is under development. This opens for a renewed discussion. The topic is both practically and legally complex, involving a shipowner’s liability in contract and in tort. Simply put: what is the class of persons for whom a shipowner becomes responsible if such person makes a mistake which leads to a defect in the ship’s seaworthiness which in turn causes damage to either a cargo owner (in contract) or a third party claimant (in tort)? The question is deliberately put in this way, covering situations of both tort and contract, since the legal background leading up to it is to a large extent parallel under the two systems. In contract there are the Hague-Visby Rules – as incorporated into Norwegian and English law – providing for a duty by the shipowner to exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy. The question becomes: where is the line to be drawn for those persons who are deemed to act on the shipowner’s behalf in fulfilling this duty? The question is similar under tort law: a shipowner is, as a starting point, made subject to a duty of due care to make the ship seaworthy so as not to be prone to causing damage – raising the question: where is the line to be drawn for those persons who are deemed to act on the shipowner’s behalf in fulfilling this duty?