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Maritime Law-Busy Week With New Decisions on Punies, Time Bars and Penalty Wages

This week bring us 3 new decisions which touch on the following issues in this order: punitive damages for unseaworthy vessels, time bars in salvage actions and penalty wages.

The first case is McBride v. Estis Well Service LLC, No. 13-30714 (5th Cir. Oct. 2, 2013). This case arose out of an accident aboard ESTIS RIG 23, a barge supporting a truck-mounted drilling rig. The principal issue was whether seamen could recover punitive damages for their employer's willful and wanton breach of the general maritime law duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. Like the doctrines of maintenance and cure, unseaworthiness was established as a general maritime law right before the passage of the Jones Act. Therefore, the Court reasoned that as punitive damages were available under the general maritime law and the Jones Act did not address unseaworthiness or limit its remedies, the court accordingly reversed and remanded, concluding that punitive damages remained available as a remedy for the general maritime law claim of unseaworthiness.

The second case is Williamson v. Recovery Ltd. P'ship, No. 11-3723/12-3949 (6th Cir. Oct. 2, 2013). The facts in this case are interesting. The Nineteenth-Century steamship S/S CENTRAL AMERICA sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 1857, taking down with her tons of gold. The wreckage was discovered more than 130 years later by explorers led by Thompson. Thompson is a fugitive from the law. Those who assisted Thompson in locating the wreck signed non-disclosure agreements in exchange for a percentage of the net recovery, but none had received payment. In defending the suit brought by these plaintiffs, Thompson's business entities asserted a two-year statute of limitations for actions in salvage and three counterclaims. The District Court rejected the time-bar argument and granted summary judgment against all counterclaims. While an interlocutory appeal was pending, the District Court granted prejudgment attachment and an injunction against one of the entities and Thompson, forbidding them from divesting certain assets. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the time bar does not apply, affirmed summary judgment against the counterclaims  for failure to raise an issue of fact material to the disposition of the case and upheld the injunction.

The issue of interest in this case, despite the history, the parties involved and the legal procedural maneuvers, is the issue related to time bar. Thompson's business entities cited the 2-year statute of limitations in salvage (46 U.S.C. section 80701(c)) to suggest that the plaintiffs were time barred in their quest for remuneration. However, the Sixth Circuit found that as there was a contract between Thompson and the plaintiffs, this was not a pure salvage situation but rather, a contract salvage situation, to which the statute does not apply. This case is good reading for anyone wanting a good  history read on the S/S CENTRAL AMERICA or a good summary on contract versus pure salvage.

The third case is closer to home--Wallace v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., No. 12-15204 (11th Cir. Oct. 1, 2013). Here, plaintiff seafarers who worked aboard cruise ships operated by NCL filed suit under the Seaman's Wage Act, 46 U.S.C. section 10313 et seq, claiming that NCL did not pay them their full wages because their compensation did not take into account the amounts they were required to pay their helpers to complete their work on embarkation days. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the District Court made findings of fact which were supported by the record that there was no evidence of willful, arbitrary or other misconduct on the part of NCL in failing to pay wages. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court.

If you are interested in receiving copies of any of these decisions or wish to reach me, you may do so by contacting me at


  1. Really very nice article. As well as helpful to gain knowledge about the tax accountants. Thanks to update us.
    Maritime Law | Marine Law


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