Same Sex Spouse Can Recover Under DOHSA

In what appears to be a case of first impression, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has held a same sex spouse can recover damages under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) arising from the death of his husband while on a cruise on the high seas.

The facts recited by the Court are compelling: Plaintiff and his husband were subjected to ‘repetitive anti-gay insults’ while passengers onboard the cruise. On their first day onboard, they were repeatedly called a ‘lipstick’ by a bartender. The couple immediately complained to the cruise operator’s management about the incidents. The next evening, the husband was extremely distraught when employees called him ‘a pedophile and other anti-gay slurs.’ He returned to his stateroom and told his husband about the insults. Afterward, security officers reported to the couple’s stateroom and ‘engaged in an argument’ with them. ‘A series of events’ ensued and the decedent fell over the couple’s seventh deck stateroom balcony onto a life boat on deck six. He held on to the life boat for several minutes as crewmembers attempted to rescue him. The crewmembers grabbed his hand but failed to rescue him, and he fell into the ocean. The ship did not stop for some time and did not timely deploy rescue boats. After receiving a distress call from the cruise, the United States Coast Guard searched for the decedent but did not find him.

The Plaintiff sued for wrongful death of his husband, as well as for the intentional infliction of emotional distress for witnessing his husband’s death. On a Rule 6 Motion to Dismiss, the Court allowed the DOHSA claim to continue, but dismissed the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because, although Plaintiff was mere feet away from his husband and witnessed his fall and disappearance, he was not himself in the ‘zone of danger’ where he was at risk of physical harm.

Elbaz v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, No. 16-24568, U.S.D.C., S.D.FL.

Longshore Act Penalties Increased For 2017

The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment And Improvements Act of 2015 requires the Department of Labor to annually adjust its civil monetary penalty levels for inflation. On January 13, 2017, DOL promulgated a final rule adjusting penalties for 2017. The new penalties are:

Failure or late filing of Form LS-202: $22,957
Failure or late filing of Form LS-208: $297
Minimum Penalty for Discrimination: $2,296
Maximum Penalty for Discrimination: $11,478

These increased rates are effective January 13, 2017.

Loyola Holds Day With the DOL Program

Loyola Law School, in cooperation with the United States Department of Labor, will hold its Day With the DOL program on Friday, October 14, 2016 at the Pan-American Life Center, 601 Poydras Street, New Orleans.

Topics include:

Handling Claims Before OWCP
• Administration of Claims and How to Navigate Your Way
• Medical Oversight Within OWCP’s Authority
• Resolution of Disputes

Pain Management and the Opioid Crisis
• What is Medically Necessary and Reasonable
• Guidelines for Pain Management
• Impact on Maximum Medical Improvement and Return to Work

Question and Answer Session with OWCP and OALJ

Speakers include Administrative Law Judge Larry W. Price, District Director David A. Duhon, Dr. Patrick H. Waring, Arthur J. Brewster and Alan G. Brackett. For information and registration, go to:

http://www.cvent.com/events/a-day-with-the-department-of-labor-new-orleans/event-summary-101f7527f4ff408a8df37d07bbc106fe.aspx.

11th Circuit Addresses Maritime Salvage Case Arising out of Marina Fire

Under the law of salvage in general maritime law, a person who recovers another person’s ship or cargo after peril or loss at sea is entitled to a reward commensurate with the value of the property saved.  The essential elements of a salvage claim are: (1) A maritime peril from which the ship or other property could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance, (2) A voluntary act by the salvor ­– that is, he must be under no official or legal duty to render assistance, and (3) Success in saving, or helping to save at least part of the property at risk. Klein v. Unidentified Wrecked, etc., Vessel.  Regarding the first element, a maritime peril does not exist where the “vessel has the situation under control,” however, all that is necessary is that there be a “reasonable apprehension of peril.” Fine v. Rockwood.

In Biscayne Towing & Salvage, Inc. v. M/Y Backstage, a yacht at a marina caught fire and spread to other vessels. A towboat on the scene pulled one vessel out of its slip at the request of the fire department to create a firebreak.  The owner of next yacht in line, the M/Y BACKSTAGE, wanted to move his vessel but was prevented from doing so by the fire department. The vessel sustained extensive heat damage as a result.

The towing company filed a maritime salvage claim against the M/Y BACKSTAGE and its owner. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the M/Y BACKSTAGE, dismissing the complaint because “[the claimant] rendered indirect benefit to a vessel not in need of assistance.”  The towing company appealed.  On appeal, the U.S. 11th Circuit reversed, finding that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether or not the M/Y BACKSTAGE “could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance.” The court reserved resolution of “the purely legal question whether the existence of a maritime peril has a ‘needs-assistance’ component” as the defendant asserted.

Biscayne Towing & Salvage, Inc. v. M/Y Backstage