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Van Horn v. Chubb Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 3, 2018

MURIEL VAN HORN AND MARK VAN HORN
v.
CHUBB INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL.

         SECTION “R” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is defendants' partial motion to dismiss.[1] For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a boat accident on Lake Pontchartrain.[2] Plaintiff Muriel Van Horn served as a volunteer race official for a sailing regatta held on the lake.[3] On November 26, 2016, Ms. Van Horn boarded a boat operated by Defendant David Rubin to be transported to her official's position.[4]According to the complaint, Rubin suddenly accelerated the vessel over the swells of Lake Pontchartrain, causing the boat to leave the water's surface, assume a nearly vertical position in the air, and slam back down onto the water.[5] This incident allegedly caused Ms. Van Horn to fracture her right tibial plateau, requiring major surgery and continuing medical care.[6]

         On November 21, 2017, Ms. Van Horn and her husband Mark Van Horn sued for damages under general maritime law and under Louisiana law in supplement to general maritime law.[7] Ms. Van Horn alleges that her injuries were caused by Rubin's negligence and by the negligence of the regatta organizers, the United States Optimist Dinghy Association, Inc. (USODA) and the Southern Yacht Club (SYC).[8] Mr. Van Horn asserts a claim for loss of consortium and society as a result of Ms. Van Horn's injuries.[9]Defendants Progressive Security Insurance Company, Chubb Insurance Company, and Federal Insurance Company allegedly provided liability insurance to Rubin, USODA, and SYC, respectively.[10] Progressive now moves to dismiss Mr. Van Horn's claim for loss of consortium and society.[11]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009).

         A legally sufficient complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's claim is true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. It need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257. The claim must be dismissed if there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, or if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Progressive argues that Mr. Van Horn's claim must be dismissed because damages for loss of consortium are not available under the general maritime law in personal injury cases.[12] Plaintiffs acknowledge that the family members of Jones Act seamen cannot recover for loss of consortium.[13]But plaintiffs contend that such damages are available to the spouse of a nonseafarer injured in territorial waters when authorized by state law.[14]Plaintiffs rely primarily on the Supreme Court's decision in Yamaha Motor Corp., USA v. Calhoun, 516 U.S. 199 (1996).

         The Supreme Court in Yamaha held that federal maritime law does not displace state law remedies for the deaths of nonseafarers in territorial waters. Id. at 215-16. The Yamaha plaintiffs sought state law remedies, including damages for loss of society, after their daughter was killed in a jet ski accident. Id. at 202-03. It is undisputed that Ms. Van Horn is a nonseafarer who was injured in Louisiana's territorial waters. Louisiana law permits the spouse of an injured person to recover damages for loss of consortium. See La. Civ. Code art. 2315; see also Kelly v. Bass Enters. Prod. Co., 17 F.Supp.2d 591, 598 (E.D. La. 1998). Progressive nevertheless argues that Yamaha is inapplicable because Mr. Van Horn's loss of consortium claim is based on personal injury rather than wrongful death.[15] But the reasoning of the Yamaha opinion is not limited to wrongful death actions.

         In Yamaha, the Supreme Court explained that variations in state remedies for wrongful deaths in territorial waters “had long been deemed compatible with federal maritime interests.” 516 U.S. at 211. The Supreme Court thus rejected the argument that the creation of a federal maritime cause of action for wrongful death in 1970 ousted state law remedies. Id. at 209-11; see also Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375, 409 (1970) (holding that a cause of action exists under general maritime law for death caused by violation of maritime duties). The Yamaha Court explained that, although Moragne sought to promote uniformity in the bases of liability in maritime law, the decision was not motivated by concern over more generous state remedies for wrongful death. 516 U.S. at 211. The Supreme Court noted that it had used similar reasoning to find that a state may apply its workers' compensation scheme to land-based injuries covered by the Longshore and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act (LHWCA). Id. at 214-15; see also Sun Ship, Inc. v. Penn., 447 U.S. 715, 724 (1980) (finding that more generous state remedial schemes would not conflict with the purpose of the LHWCA).

         If the application of state law remedies for wrongful deaths within territorial waters is compatible with federal maritime interests, the Court perceives no basis to find a conflict between maritime law and state remedies for personal injuries within territorial waters. See Linton v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 964 F.2d 1480, 1485 (5th Cir. 1992) (explaining that state law remedies that do not interfere with federal statutory or maritime law “may be enforced, even by invoking the admiralty jurisdiction of the federal courts”); see also Thomas J. Schoenbaum, 1 Admiralty and Maritime Law § 4-2 (5th ed. 2017); 14A Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure ยง 3672 (4th ed. 2017). Congress has not created a comprehensive tort recovery regime applicable to the personal injuries of nonseafarers in ...


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