Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (“NYK”), incorporated and headquartered in Japan, is a major global logistics company that transports cargo by air and sea. On June 17, 2017, the ACX Crystal, a 730-foot container ship chartered by NYK, collided with the destroyer USS Fitzgerald in Japanese territorial waters. Personal representatives of the seven sailors killed sued NYK in federal court, asserting wrongful death and survival claims under the Death on the High Seas Act.  In both cases, the plaintiffs alleged that NYK, a foreign corporation, is amenable to federal court jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2) based on its “substantial, systematic and continuous contacts with the United States as a whole. The district court granted NYK’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Plaintiffs’ invitation to craft an atextual, novel, and unprecedented Fifth Amendment personal jurisdiction standard. The court explained that under the Supreme Court’s reigning test for personal jurisdiction, the district court did not err in absolving NYK from appearing in federal court. The court wrote that general jurisdiction over NYK does not comport with its Fifth Amendment due process rights. NYK is incorporated and headquartered in Japan. As a result, exercising general jurisdiction over NYK would require that its contacts with the United States “be so substantial and of such a nature to render [it] at home” in the United States. Here, NYK’s contacts with the United States comprise only a minor portion of its worldwide contacts. View "Douglass v. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Defendants in this action brought against the owners of a fishing vessel on which Plaintiff was a seaman alleging that the owners breached a federal common law obligation under admiralty law known as the "duty of cure," holding that the district court's holding rested on an impermissible ground for distinguishing Gauthier v. Crosby Marine Service, Inc., 752 F.2d 1085 (5th Cir. 1985).Plaintiff alleged that Defendants failed adequately to pay him for the costs of the medical care he received after falling ill from an infection he acquired while working on their vessel and that, even if Defendants' various payments to Plaintiff and his private health insurer satisfied their duty of cure, their delay in paying him warranted an award of compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees. The district court entered judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit largely vacated the judgment, holding (1) the district court's holding rested on an impermissible ground for distinguishing Gauthier and did not otherwise explain why Gauthier did not apply; and (2) Defendants' proposed alternative ground for affirming the district court's grant of judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff's breach-of-the-duty-of-cure claim failed. View "Aadland v. Boat Santa Rita II, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff slipped on a puddle of water and broke her hip shortly after boarding a Carnival cruise ship. She then sued the cruise line for negligence. The district court granted summary judgment for Carnival, holding that it lacked a duty to protect Plaintiff because its crewmembers had neither actual nor constructive notice of the particular puddle that caused her fall.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court, holding that the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendant on the basis that Defendant lacked notice was improper. The court found that the district court failed to faithfully follow Carroll. (Carroll v. Carnival Corp., 955 F.3d 1260, 1264 (11th Cir. 2020.) The relevant question, in this case, was whether Carnival “had actual or constructive knowledge that the pool deck where [Plaintiff] fell could be slippery (and therefore dangerous) when wet.” The fact that warning signs were “posted on the pool deck” in the general area of Plaintiff’s fall, when “viewed in the light most favorable to [Plaintiff], is enough to withstand summary judgment as to notice.” View "Mary Brady v. Carnival Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife were passengers on a cruise aboard a ship operated by Defendant. A verbal altercation between Plaintiff and another passenger ensued and while the security officer turned to speak to Plaintiff, the other passenger punched Plaintiff in the face.   Plaintiff alleged that Defendant was negligent because it failed to (a) reasonably and properly train security personnel; (b) have adequate security measures, including adequate security presence and surveillance cameras; (c) warn him of the danger of being physically assaulted while onboard the vessel; (d) promulgate and enforce policies and procedures designed to prevent passengers from physically assaulting other passengers; and (e) exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, ruling that there was no evidence suggesting that Defendant had actual or constructive notice of the risk of harm.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Defendant and denied Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions. The court held that Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to create an issue of fact as to whether Defendant had actual notice that any passengers would attack him. The court reasoned that in the context of passenger-on-passenger violence, a cruise line has a duty to warn and/or protect when it or its employees reasonably apprehend the danger such that the attack was foreseeable. However, while the presence of a security officer during disembarkation connotes some awareness of the importance of order, a verbal dispute does not provide actual notice that a physical assault is to follow. View "Reinier Fuentes v. Classica Cruise Operator Ltd, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, acting as the representative for her deceased husband, filed a suit in federal court seeking damages under a wrongful death theory from entities who manufactured, sold, and distributed asbestos-containing products to which her husband could have been exposed. Her husband worked as an outside machinist onboard a ship at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. His duties included removing and installing piping insulation, gaskets, and other parts that may have contained asbestos in various compartments throughout the ships. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma on February 20, 2015, and he died on July 3, 2015.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a wrongful death claim under admiralty jurisdiction and remanded for reconsideration of Plaintiff’s claims in light of the court’s holding that the statute of limitations began to accrue on the date of her husband’s death. The court held that a wrongful death claim in admiralty can only accrue on or after the death of the seaman, and not before. The court applied federal law and distinguished wrongful death claims from survival statutes permitting personal injury claims of an injured individual after death. Thus, the accrual of the three-year statute of limitations for maritime torts, 46 U.S.C. Sec. 30106, began to run on the date of death of her husband and not on the date of discovery of the injury or illness that ultimately resulted in his death. View "SHERRI DEEM V. THE WILLIAM POWELL COMPANY" on Justia Law

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In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an action concerning the allision between three vessels passing each other in the Hahnville Bar, a bend between mile markers 124.5 and 126 in the Mississippi River where a number of moorings are located. The court concluded that the district court did not err in allowing the parties' respective liabilities, in limiting the parties' liability, or in dismissing the personal injury claim. In this case, the district court did not clearly err in allocating liability as to the Elizabeth, the Loretta, or the Aris T. The court agreed with the district court's ruling that the Limitation of Liability Act does not allow the Elizabeth Interests or the Loretta Interest to limit liability in this case. Furthermore, the Aris T's negligence was attributable solely to the compulsory pilot, Pilot Leone, and therefore, the Aris T is only liable in rem. Finally, in regard to the personal injury claim, the court concluded that the proximate cause element was not satisfied where claimant's unforeseeable panic caused the accident. View "SCF Waxler Marine, LLC v. Genesis Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court dismissing this suit brought under the Death on the High Seas Act and maritime law, see 46 U.S.C. 30301 et seq., for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the issue presented were capable of judicial management without interfering with the military's judgment.A private contractor maintained a fleet of older Navy helicopters. In 2014, one of the helicopters crashed during a training exercise, killing three service members and injuring two others. Plaintiffs, the families of the deceased service members and one of the survivors, sued the contractor. The trial court dismissed the suit on the ground that questions of military judgment rendered the case nonjusticiable. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that the political question doctrine did not deprive the state courts of jurisdiction over this case. View "Preston v. M1 Support Services, L.P." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss this action seeking damages for injuries received in a boating accident, holding that this case was allowed to proceed in Plaintiffs' chosen forum.Plaintiffs were ferrying in a small boat when another boat, owned by Defendant, plowed into Plaintiffs' boat and sunk it. The crash also left one of the Plaintiffs with serious personal injuries. Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant, a U.S. citizen, in Massachusetts, bringing claims for maritime negligence, loss of consortium, and property damages. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for forum non conveniens, arguing that Greece was the most appropriate venue for the case. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the case. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion in failing to hold Defendant to his burden of showing that the public and private interest factors displaced the presumption weighing in favor of Plaintiffs' initial forum of choice. View "Curtis v. Galakatos" on Justia Law

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In July 2015, R.N. went boating on Lake Coeur d’Alene with his friends, C.N. and B.L. All three boys were sixteen years old at the time. The boat was owned by C.N.’s father. C.N., B.L., and R.N. obtained about 12 beers from an unknown source and consumed them while boating. Later, the boys stopped at Shooters, a restaurant and bar near the south end of the lake. Respondent Tracy Lynn allegedly provided C.N., B.L., and R.N. with an alcoholic drink known as a “Shooter sinker” (also known as a “derailer”). The boys left the restaurant and drank the derailer on the lake. At some point during the trip, R.N. jumped or fell off the boat into the water and drowned. Appellant-plaintiffs Brandi Jones (R.N.'s mother), and Dasha Drahos (R.N.'s sister) filed a complaint against Lynn, alleging she recklessly and tortiously caused R.N.’s death by providing him with alcohol before he drowned in Lake Coeur d’Alene. Lynn moved for summary judgment, asking the district court to dismiss the case because the Plaintiffs failed to comply with the notice requirements under Idaho’s Dram Shop Act. The district court agreed and granted Lynn’s motion for summary judgment after concluding there was no uniform body of federal maritime dram shop law that would preempt Idaho’s Dram Shop Act. Thus, the Plaintiffs had to comply with the Dram Shop Act’s notice requirements. The Plaintiffs appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. Finding that the district court correctly applied with the Idaho Dram Shop Act after concluding the Act did not conflict with any uniform federal common law, and that the district court did not err in finding Appellants' claims were barred because they did not comply with the Dram Shop Act, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment. View "Jones v. Lynn" on Justia Law