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The 25th Biennial Admiralty Law Institute kicked off with great success on March 11, 2015. Informative presentations continued on March 12-13, building on the theme of this year’s conference, “Symposium on Maritime Personal Injury and Death: Jurisdiction to Judgment.”

Thursday, March 12th: The second day of the Admiralty Law Institute began with a panel discussion of punitive damages. Punitive damages has been a hot topic since McBride v. Estis, where the Fifth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed its own panel opinion. The panel had concluded that punitive damages could be recovered by a seaman for the alleged unseaworthiness of a vessel. In September 2014, the en banc court reversed that panel and held that the statutory remedies provided by the Jones Act could not be supplemented, and thus a seaman cannot recover punitive damages for death or personal injury based on unseaworthiness. The Supreme Court is considering granting certiorari, so the availability of punitive damages in such cases will likely remain controversial.

Thursday’s program also emphasized themes such as alternative dispute resolution and maritime disaster. A panel discussion moderated by Patricia Krebs addressed a shift in the litigation of maritime disputes from expensive and formal arbitration to more flexible and informal mediation.The following panel, entitled “Effective Settlement Negotiations” similarly addressed practical aspects of dispute resolution.

Two of Thursday’s panels discussed the Deepwater Horizon incident. The first focused on government regulation and class society rules post-incident. The other, which panel included attorneys from both sides of the Deepwater Horizon litigation and Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan, provided an illuminating recount of the effective strategies employed by Judge Barbier in helping to move such a massive case towards resolution.

Friday, March 13th included a panel discussion of the recent Coffin v. Blessey Marine Services, Inc. decision, in which the Fifth Circuit held that tankermen (i.e., individuals responsible for loading and unloading tank barges as part of their duties as crew of a tow) were seaman whilst loading and unloading the vessel, and thus exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The conference was not all work and no play; as was the case Wednesday, both Thursday and Friday featured opportunities for participants to mix and mingle with their colleagues. On Thursday, the Young Lawyers group hosted a networking mixer at the Foundation Room of the House of Blues for registrants in practice fewer than six years. Following the programming on Friday was the Tulane Maritime Law Alumni luncheon at Galvez.

The next Institute, which shall focus on commercial aspects of admiralty and maritime practice, will be held in October of 2016.