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State remedies remain applicable in maritime wrongful-death cases in which no federal statute specifies the appropriate relief and the decedent was not a seaman, longshore worker, or person otherwise engaged in a maritime trade. State remedies have not been displaced in such cases by the recognized federal maritime wrongful-death action.
Twelve-year-old Natalie Calhoun was killed in a collision in territorial waters off Puerto Rico while riding a jet ski manufactured and distributed by petitioners Yamaha. Natalie's parents, respondents Calhoun, filed this federal diversity and admiralty action for damages against Yamaha, invoking Pennsylvania's wrongful-death and survival statutes. The District Court agreed with Yamaha that the federal maritime wrongful-death action recognized in Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375, 26 L. Ed. 2d 339, 90 S. Ct. 1772, controlled to the exclusion of state law. In its order presenting the matter for immediate interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), the District Court certified questions of law concerning the recoverability of particular items of damages under Moragne. The Third Circuit granted interlocutory review, but the panel to which the appeal was assigned did not reach the questions presented in the certified order. Instead, the panel addressed and resolved an anterior issue; it held that state remedies remain applicable in accident cases of this type and have not been displaced by the federal maritime wrongful-death action recognized in Moragne.
Is state remedy in maritime wrongful death case displaced by federal maritime wrongful death action, where decedent was not seafarer and death occurred in territorial waters?
The Court examined the purpose behind its creation of a federal common law maritime wrongful death cause of action and determined that it was never intended to displace state remedies in the area. The Court held that the purpose was to extend the unseaworthiness doctrine of strict-liability to cover seamen who died in territorial waters. It was inconsistent with this humane and liberal purpose to hold that the federal cause of action forced a contraction of state remedies. The court held that state remedies existed alongside the federal cause of action.