Who’s the Author?
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Below is the introduction to a Court of Appeal opinion that was filed Monday. The writing style is distinctive and widely held in high regard. Those who regularly read appellate court opinions will probably be able to detect who the author is. The opinion appears in full in today’s Slip Opinion Supplement at Page 4782.)
A case from 1836 described seamen as “‘a class of persons remarkable for their rashness, thoughtlessness and improvidence. They are generally necessitous, ignorant of the nature and extent of their own rights and privileges, and for the most part incapable of duly appreciating their value. They combine, in a singular manner, the apparent anomalies of gallantry, extravagance, profusion in expenditure, indifference to the future, credulity, which is easily won, and confidence, which is readily surprised.’ [Citation.]” (Brown v. Lull (CC Mass. 1836) 4 F. Cas. 407, 409, cited in Dutra Grp. v. Batterton —U.S.— [139 S.Ct. 2275, 2279], fn. 1.) Herman Melville first went to sea in 1838 so these were the shipmates he sailed with and later wrote about in Moby Dick; courts of his day took a solicitous approach toward the problems of the hardy souls engaged in seafaring commerce.
But admiralty law has evolved since the days when it was entirely judge-made and mariners were practically wards of the court. Since the early 20th century, when Congress began legislating in this area, the role of the courts has changed from leader to follower, from promulgation to interpretation. As the United States Supreme Court has explained in its most recent opinion on the matter, the courts must now leave the development of novel claims and remedies to the legislatures. For that reason, we must affirm the judgment in this case.
The case arose from a movie-making accident. After her father was injured diving in French Polynesia, Mira Chloe Prickett sued Bonnier Corporation and World Publications, LLC (collectively Bonnier) for compensatory and punitive damages under general maritime law. The trial court granted a judgment on the pleadings against her on the grounds that neither compensatory damages for loss of her father’s society nor punitive damages were available under general maritime law. Appellant Prickett has not cited to us any admiralty authority that has allowed a child to recover loss of society damages for a nonfatal injury to a non-seaman on the high seas, and—without legislative impetus or compelling logic for such a result—we must decline to do so.
(The opinion goes on to say: “It would be anomalous to place loss of society damages beyond the reach of the families of those who go down to the sea in ships for their living—those whose miserable lives, hazardous and unpredictable occupation, and improvident ways formerly evoked a ‘special solicitude’ from the courts—while allowing families of non-seamen to recover these damages. The United States Supreme Court has cautioned us not to get ahead of Congress in defining new maritime remedies, and we will abide by this admonition.”)
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