A party inexperienced with Limitation of Liability Act (“LOLA”) proceedings may find themselves in deep water by assuming that the procedural rules applicable to ordinary civil cases applies equally to a case brought under LOLA. While there are certainly many similarities, one critical difference with LOLA is the requirement to bring a “claim”; or, more precisely, the distinction between an “answer” and a “claim” under LOLA and Rule F of the Supplemental Rules. The problem arises when a “plaintiff” serves an inexperienced party (i.e., attorney) with a “complaint” under LOLA, who, in turn, files the seemingly appropriate “answer” to that complaint within the allotted time. But unfortunately, under Rule F of the Supplemental Rules, that alone does not preserve the “defendant’s” right to recovery for the underlying incident. Instead, courts have been clear that the injured party must file and articulate a claim for recovery, not merely an answer to the plaintiff’s allegations in its complaint. The consequence of this omission could unfortunately be default judgment.
This procedural issue spawns from Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions. Under Rule F, after a plaintiff files a LOLA complaint and brings the associated motions, the court must issue a notice directing all potential claimants to file a claim “on or before a date to be named in the notice.” The claim must specify “the facts upon which the claimant relies in support of the claim, the items thereof, and the dates on which the same accrued.” Notably, however, Rule F separates a claim from an answer to a LOLA complaint. While the claim is necessary to create a right to recovery, an answer is only required if “a claimant desires to contest either the right to exoneration from or the right to limitation of liability[.]” In summary, under Rule F, the claim and answer serve two distinct purposes, and only a claim is a necessary filing.
This may seem simple enough. But many hopeful claimants have nonetheless failed to distinguish these filings and have been left without an avenue to recovery. As a recent example, in Matter of G&J Fisheries, after the plaintiff moved for default on all potential claimants who failed to timely file a claim, a party argued that his answer, file a day prior to the deadline, constituted a “claim” to avoid default. The Massachusetts District Court rejected this argument, stating that it “is unaware of any caselaw construing an answer as a claim under Rule F to save a claimant from default judgment[.]” The court further reasoned that “the plain language of Rule F, which requires a claimant to file a claim rather than an answer, refutes” the hopeful claimant’s argument against default. To that party’s dismay, despite his timely answer denying the plaintiff’s right to limit liability, the court held him in default on his right to recover any amount. Courts in other jurisdictions have come to similar conclusions.
Timely filing a claim is more that just preserving an opportunity for recovery. It is also more broadly about standing in the LOLA proceeding. In a case from the Midwest exemplifying this principle, the Eighth Circuit held that Rule F(5) creates a “statutory standing requirement for challenging limitation actions.” In In re American River Transp. Co., the United States, without first filing a claim, moved to dismiss the LOLA action on the basis that it cannot apply to the relevant incident. The district court granted the United States’ motion. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit set aside the merits of that position, and instead focused on whether the United States could raise the argument all. The court said no, holding that the United States “did not have statutory standing because it failed to file a claim in accordance with Rule F(5).” Thus, not only must a party file a claim “to preserve his right to recover from the limitation fund,” it must also file a claim merely to preserve any opportunity to challenge LOLA itself.
In conclusion, the importance of timely filing a claim in a LOLA action cannot be overstated. It is the singular instrument that preserves a party’s opportunity to exercise any rights under a LOLA action. And critically, a claim is not a mere formality. Courts are clear that alternative filings like an answer will not suffice. As the title implies under Rule F, a party must make an affirmative claim to the limitation fund that the plaintiff creates. Consequently, if you are representing a party in a LOLA action, you should be aware of the necessity of timely filing a claim, and your options if your opponent fails to do so.
If you have questions about avoiding the potential pitfalls of a Limitation of Liability Act complaint or claim, or any other maritime concerns, please contact the experienced admiralty and maritime attorneys at Eckland & Blando LLP.
 Research and drafting assistance provided by Vince Reuter, partner at Eckland & Blando, LLP and Adrian Kipp, law clerk at Eckland & Blando LLP.
 See 14A Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris. § 3671.1, n. 27 (4th ed.).
 See Fed. R. Civ. P. F(5).
 14A Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris. § 3671.1, n. 27 (4th ed.).
 Fed. R. Civ. P. F(4), (5).
 Id. at (5).
 See id.
 “Claims shall be filed and served on or before the date specified in the notice provided for in subdivision (4) of this rule.” Id; “If a claimant desires to contest either the right to exoneration from or the right to limitation of liability the claimant shall file and serve an answer[.]” Id; In re Columbia Leasing L.L.C., 981 F. Supp. 2d 490, 494 (E.D. Va. 2013) (“In other words, a claimant is not required to file an answer contesting a plaintiff’s right to seek exoneration or limitation, but to preserve his right to recover from the limitation fund, he must file a claim.”).
 Matter of G&J Fisheries, Inc., 570 F. Supp. 3d 8, 10-11 (D. Mass. 2021).
 Id. at 11.
 Id. at 12.
 In re Columbia Leasing L.L.C., 981 F. Supp. 2d at 494 (“[T]o preserve his right to recover from the limitation fund, [he] must file a claim[.]”); In re Complaint & Petition of Triton Asset Leasing GmbH, 719 F. Supp. 2d 753, 758 (S.D. Tex. 2010) (holding that putative claimants must file a claim to contest the merits of the liability action); In re Beauvois, No. 2:10-CV-480-FTM-36, 2010 WL 5055833, *3 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 3, 2010) (granting a motion for default judgment because the “fact that no claim has been filed by [the non-moving party] is dispositive of the issue”); Matter of Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC, No. 117-CV-00168 (MAD/CFH), 2018 WL 1183711, *2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 6, 2018) (“Petitioner is correct that Claimant has failed to meet the requirements of Rule F by failing to file a claim.”).
 In re Am. River Transp. Co., 728 F.3d 839, 842 (8th Cir. 2013) (cleaned up).
 Id. at 844.
 Id. at 841.
 Id. at 843-44.
 Id. at 844.
 In re Columbia Leasing L.L.C., 981 F. Supp. 2d at 494.
 In re Am. River Transp. Co., 728 F.3d at 844.