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U.S. Supreme Court

American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez, 446 U.S. 274 (1980)

American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez

No. 79-1

Argued February 26, 1980

Decided May 12, 1980

446 U.S. 274


After filing suit in a New York state court against petitioner shipowner to recover damages, on grounds of negligence and unseaworthiness, for personal injuries sustained while working aboard petitioner's vessel in New York waters, respondent husband sought leave to amend his complaint to add his spouse as a plaintiff for loss of society. The trial court denied the motion to amend, but the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed and granted the motion to amend, reasoning that the case was controlled by Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, 414 U. S. 573, which held that, under the nonstatutory maritime wrongful death remedy, the widow of a longshoreman mortally injured aboard a vessel in state territorial waters could recover damages for the loss of her deceased husband's society. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 446 U. S. 277-286; 446 U. S. 286.

46 N.Y.2d 634, 389 N.E.2d 461, affirmed.


1. The Court of Appeals' judgment upholding the legal tenability of the wife's claim for loss of society, although not "final" or within a categorical exception to strict finality when originally entered, will, as a practical matter, be treated as falling within such an exception where, after certiorari was granted in this Court, the case, including the loss of society claim, was tried and respondent husband prevailed, the appeal from the trial verdict will not challenge the element thereof awarding damages for loss of society, and no federal issue other than whether the wife has a cause of action under general maritime law for loss of society remains. Pp. 446 U. S. 277-279.

2. General maritime law authorizes the wife of a harbor worker injured nonfatally aboard a vessel in state territorial waters to maintain an action for damages for the loss of her husband's society. Although Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, supra, upheld a claim for loss of society in the context of a wrongful death action, it provides the conclusive decisional recognition of a right to recover for such loss, there being no apparent reason to differentiate between fatal and nonfatal injuries in authorizing the recovery of damages for loss of society. Nor

Page 446 U. S. 275

is the reach of Gaudet's principle limited by the fact that no right to recover for loss of society due to maritime injury has been recognized by Congress under the Death on the High Seas Act or the Jones Act. Neither statute embodies an "established and inflexible" rule foreclosing recognition of a claim for loss of society by judicially crafted general maritime law. Pp. 446 U. S. 279-286.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, while believing that Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, supra, was decided wrongly, concurred in the judgment because he saw no rational basis for drawing a distinction between fatal and nonfatal injuries. P. 446 U. S. 286.

BRENNAN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,concurred in the judgment. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 446 U. S. 286. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 446 U. S. 286.

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