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Parekh v. Argonautica Shipping Investments B.V.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 11, 2017

NAYANA AMBARISH PAREKH, Plaintiff
v.
ARGONAUTICA SHIPPING INVESTMENTS B.V. et al., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Plaintiff Nayana Ambarish Parekh (“Plaintiff”), individually and as the personal representative of decedent, Ambarish Ramnikrai Parekh (“Decedent”).[1] The motion is opposed.[2] For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 17, 2016, the Decedent, a marine cargo surveyor employed by Maritech Commercial, Inc., fell into the Mississippi River as he was attempting to board the M/V AFRICAN RAPTOR from the C/B MISS RACHEL.[3] At the time of his fall, the Decedent was wearing an inflatable life vest manufactured by Defendant Absolute Outdoor, Inc. (“Absolute”).[4] The vest, designed to self-inflate when wet, never inflated.[5] The deflated vest was on the Decedent's body when he was located in the river by a passing vessel two days after the incident.[6]

         On August 9, 2016, the Plaintiff filed this civil action and also an action in rem against the M/V AFRICAN RAPTOR.[7] The Plaintiff pleaded negligence against the M/V AFRICAN RAPTOR and strict products liability against Absolute as the manufacturer of the allegedly defective life vest.[8] For each count, the Plaintiff alleged “This cause of action against the aforesaid defendants is based upon the general maritime law of the United States.”[9]

         On November 4, 2016, Absolute filed its answer to the Plaintiff's complaint, in which it included a jury demand and affirmative defenses relating to the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”).[10]

         On February 9, 2017, the Plaintiff filed the instant motion, arguing Absolute's jury demand is improper and its affirmative defenses alleging the application of the LPLA must be stricken because this case is governed solely by the general maritime law.[11]Specifically, the Plaintiff seeks to strike Absolute's jury demand and Affirmative Defenses 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12.[12]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Plaintiff's Wrongful Death Action under General Maritime Law Includes an Action for Products Liability

         In this case, the Plaintiff brings a claim for strict products liability under general maritime law. The Plaintiff alleges Absolute “is strictly liable to plaintiff as it was the party best able to protect persons like decedent from its defective and unreasonably dangerous personal flotation device, a defect which caused a failure of the device to inflate and provide buoyancy to decedent.”[13] The Plaintiff further alleges “[jurisdiction of the second cause of action [for products liability] against the aforesaid defendants is based upon the general maritime law of the United States.”[14]

         The Decedent is a maritime employee covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (“LHWCA”).[15] Thus, the Plaintiff must look to the LHWCA for available rights and remedies. Section 933 of the LHWCA preserves the Plaintiff's wrongful death claim against a non-vessel owner third party.[16] The Supreme Court in Moragne v. States Marine Line, Inc., recognized the presence of a wrongful death claim under general maritime law for a widow of a longshoreman killed while working aboard a vessel in state territorial waters.[17] The Supreme Court extended the general maritime law wrongful death action for a maritime employee killed in state waters to include an action for negligence.[18] Thus, the Plaintiff may bring wrongful death causes of action under the general maritime law. The Plaintiff contends her Moragne/Garris general maritime law wrongful death action against Absolute includes a claim for products liability.[19]

         The Supreme Court has recognized products liability, including strict products liability, as part of the general maritime law.[20] The Supreme Court's rationale in other cases involving injuries to maritime workers-“that strict liability should be imposed on the party best able to protect persons from hazardous equipment-is equally applicable when the claims are based on products liability.”[21]

         The Court agrees with the Plaintiff that “the seafarer's state water wrongful death action, grounded in general maritime law starting with Moragne (unseaworthiness) and expanded in Garris (negligence), includes a general maritime products liability cause of action.”[22] The Court must then determine whether the LPLA supplements or supplants the general maritime products liability law.

         II. The LPLA Does Not Supplement or Supplant Strict Products Liability Law under General Maritime Law

         “With admiralty jurisdiction . . . comes the application of substantive admiralty law.”[23] Under the Preemption Clause of the Constitution, federal law preempts conflicting state law.[24] Judge-made general maritime law is a facet of federal common law and therefore preempts conflicting state law.[25] However, the Supreme Court has approved the application of state law where it serves to supplement, but not contravene, the general maritime law by filling a “gap” therein.[26] A court may supplement general maritime law with state law under three conditions: “(1) where there is no applicable admiralty rule; (2) where local and state interests predominate; and (3) where the uniformity principle is not crucial.”[27]

         The Court may supplement the general maritime law with state law only to fill a “gap” therein. The applicable rule for strict products liability under general maritime law that has been embraced by both the Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit is Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts.[28] The Supreme Court has stated Section 402A is the “best expression” of the law of products liability under the general maritime ...


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