Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Miles ve Apex Marine Corp. case brief

Miles ve Apex Marine Corp. case brief summary
Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor, 1990
This is a very important case for death on the high seas.

  • Torregano was stabbed in a vessel and died from the injuries.
  • The plaintiff was the mother.
  • Torregano’s mother sued alleging negligence under the Jones Act and breach of warranty of seaworthiness under general maritime law for hiring a crew member unfit to serve.
  • The death occurs in a vessel docked in the harbor of Vancouver.
  • The claims are for loss of society, loss of support (amount of financial support giving to his mother) and services, Torregano’s pain and suffering, lost of future income (how much money he would have made working for the vessel).

Theories of liability:
Jones Act negligence.
Breach of unseaworthiness
  • The court relies on Moragne: Congress retains superior authority in these matters and the statutes should be followed.
  • The court extends Moragne from its facts applying it to true seaman rather to a harbor worker.
  • There is a general maritime cause of action for the wrongful death of a seaman.
    • This is a big deal because the law wasn’t clear, so the court adopt the ruling from the Moragne.
    • The court makes it clear that there is a right under this claim.
  • Unlike DOHSA, the Jones Act doesn’t limit damages to any particular form.
  • There is no recovery for loss of society in a Jones Act wrongful death action.
  • The JA applies when a seaman has been killed as a result of negligence and it limits recovery to pecuniary loss.
  • There is no recovery for loss of society in a general maritime law action for the wrongful death of a Jones Act seaman.
    • The court limits the recovery for general maritime law to pecuniary damages.

Issue: whether in a general maritime action surviving the death of a seaman, the estate can recover decedent’s lost future earnings.
  • Under traditional maritime law, as under common law, there is no right of survival, a seaman’s personal cause of action does not survive the seaman’s death.
  • Where there’s no state survival statute, there is no survival of unseaworthiness claims absent a change in the traditional maritime rule.
  • The court holds that the income decedent would have earned is not recoverable.
  • Recovery for lost future income in a survival suit will, in many instances, be duplicative of recovery by dependants for loss of support in a wrongful death action, that support would have come from the seaman’s future earnings.
  • In the JA, recovery is limited to losses suffered during the decedent’s lifetime. Thus future income cannot be recovered.
  • Because Torregano’s estate cannot recover for his lost future income under the JA, it cannot do so under general maritime law. 
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