Torts II, Pages 593–597

Morgane v. States Marine Lines, Inc.

Supreme Court of the United States, 1970

Facts:

Plaintiff's husband was killed while working as a longshoreman aboard defendant's ship. Plaintiff sues for wrongful death and pain and suffering, but in 1886 the Supreme Court The Harrisburg decided that there was no wrongful death cause of action under maritime law.

Issue:

Whether The Harrisburg, which provided that maritime law has no cause of action for wrongful death, should still be regarded as acceptable law.

Reasoning:

One would expect a very good reason to deny such a serious cause of action in this situation, but all that has been given is that that is how it has always been done in England. This was because of the no longer used felony-merger doctrine, which said that one could not sue civilly over actions that were also a felony, as that resulted in the forfeiture of property in England.

Every state has a wrongful death statute and Congress has passed multiple laws enabling recovery in certain maritime circumstances. This makes it clear that public policy is not opposed to allowing recovery.

Rule/Holding:

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[A]n action does lie under general maritime law for death caused by violation of maritime duties.

Judgment:

Reversed and remanded.

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