The Ninth Circuit recently held that punitive damages are available to seafarers who sustain injuries from unseaworthy conditions under the general maritime law. In doing so, it rejected a previous Fifth Circuit decision. The decision appears to suggest that if an owner knows of the unseaworthiness but does nothing, it is immune from punitive damages; yet, if an owner knows nothing, it may still be subject to punitive damages if the unseaworthy condition is sufficiently egregious in the opinion of the court.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently jettisoned the six-factor, fact-intensive Davis & Sons test for maritime contracts in favour of a "simpler, more straightforward test consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Kirby". The decision will affect contractual indemnity provisions in offshore drilling contracts.
The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently reinforced the availability of a maritime attachment as a means of obtaining security for a foreign arbitration. However, in so doing, the court highlighted that a maritime attachment must include an element of obtaining jurisdiction and may not be used solely to obtain security from a party already subject to the court's jurisdiction.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently ruled that the responsible party for an oil spill may obtain contribution for purely economic damages from another tortfeasor under the Oil Pollution Act 1990 irrespective of the general maritime law's economic loss rule. This decision provides some comfort to statutorily designated responsible parties that are held strictly liable in the first instance for significant costs relating to clean-up, remediation and third-party damages resulting from an oil spill.
Over the years, a number of US Customs and Border Control (CBP) rulings have addressed the ability of foreign-flagged vessels to conduct certain activities relating to the offshore energy industry. CBP recently issued a notice of proposed modifications and revocations of its prior letter rulings relating to these activities, which would require them to be conducted by qualified vessels with coastwise endorsements under the Jones Act regulations.