The Supreme Court Tuesday issued its first full opinion of the 1990-91 term, limiting the options available for recovering damages under general maritime law.
In a case that grew out of the 1984 stabbing death of a crew member aboard a ship docked in Vancouver, Wash., the court ruled that while family members of a dead sailor can sue for wrongful death, under general maritime law the grounds for such a suit are restricted.The court said damages cannot be awarded to a parent for loss of society - the loss of a son or daughter' love and affection - in a general maritime wrongful death action, and that the same body of law does not permit the family of a dead sailor to receive his future earnings.
The court, in an 8-0 opinion, affirmed the judgment of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ninth justice, David Souter, was not a member of the court Oct. 3 when the case was argued and took no part in the vote.
The case involved the July 18, 1984, death of Ludwick Torregano, stabbed 62 times by fellow crew member Clifford Melrose aboard the ship Archon.
The high court's decision clears up a discrepancy in lower courts over whether general maritime law permitted a survival action for the future wage loss of a dead sailor.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had agreed that Apex Marine Corp., operator of the ship, was negligent and awarded Miles, Torregano's mother, $7,800 for loss of support and services and Torregano's estate $140,000 for his pain and suffering. Those awards were not affected by Tuesday's ruling. Torregano's parents were seeking additional compensation.