Newport is straight fire these days. Covid or not, the docks have a blistered Med look with miles of polished hulls, scuttling uniformed crew and Rovers idling at the curb. They’re calling the couple of new waterfront hotels “boutique,” a label meaning the business model is all about individual excess – larger rooms and larger rates. But it’s like how Mac Miller raps across a pulsing trip-hop: “She do whatever she like. And that just don’t seem right, yea, make people so mad.”
Consider that 14,000 evictions happened last year in Tulsa, Oklahoma, you’ve got school kitchens where one of those big ‘tilt-kettles’ would make all the difference in how many kids they could feed (the $15,000 price is a deal breaker) and I read some local communities haven’t had on-line schooling because many students don’t have a laptop and/or internet access.
No liberal bleeding here . . . this is just about right or wrong. The right side of life is you trade down in your yacht and you trade up in helping your fellow citizen. Don’t want to? Well then we’ll see because the worm turns quickly and lady luck never spends the entire night.
Forgive me, the lacquer of overwrought riches on display these summer days makes me irritable and I worry the future. So what to do? Tax the super wealthy. Get on with it. Make it watertight. You want all that the United States offers and access to its markets, etc., pay up big. Require yachts be documented in the United States. The course change is easy; it’s just hard to take the helm off auto-pilot.
Maybe this is a weird flex on my part, so let’s Williamson-turn around to something admiralty law-like. You can lose faith sometimes, but don’t lose faith in the maritime law of salvage. This is an awesome area of saltwater law and it’ll have the crewmember and vessel owner making money for saving vessels in peril. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (think the appellate court of the Southeast United States) highlighted what entitles you to make a salvage claim. And by doing so, the court refastened the established elements of maritime salvage law.
The appeal was brought by a salvor who’d rendered services to a yacht big enough for most of us to have gathered aboard. The yacht was adrift as a result of its shaft divorcing from the gearbox, all while seawater rushed in to join the party. A distress call was issued, the salvor responded, patched and moved the yacht to the safety of a dock. When the matter went to trial, the salvor lost because the trial court applied the ruling of an older case. This older case stated that “maritime peril” must be coupled with a showing that the yacht could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance. That’s wrong. A salvor only needs to show a vessel is in actual or imminent danger to establish the first element of a salvage claim. (The other two ingredients are “voluntariness” (meaning you didn’t have some preexisting obligation to assist) and “success” (meaning you saved or contributed to saving the vessel)).
With the wrong law having been lathered across its claim, the salvor appealed and ultimately, the Eleventh Circuit correctly ruled that “maritime peril” stands alone. That is, a salvor does NOT need to show that the salved vessel was a necessary element to the vessel’s rescue. Instead, the salvor only has to show that the vessel was under a “maritime peril.” Fire, groundings and flooding with seawater are pretty classic examples of maritime peril.
After that jump shot, the Eleventh Circuit didn’t just walk off the court. Instead, it went on to remind its audience that the public policy of salvage is to encourage mariners to come to the aid of vessels in distress and “to do so before it is a do-or-die wager with high risks.” I read that as the Court wants to keep the threshold for proving a salvage nice and low (right where it is) because salvage should be encouraged, not lassoed as so many interests seem to want to do.
Salvage saves money for vessel owners, insurers and cargo interests. Yes, salvage claims can be large, but why shouldn’t they be? The salvor is risking its life and property to come to the aid of someone else’s property. That voluntary effort shouldn’t be expected or treated casually; it should be encouraged with liberal salvage awards designed to encourage others to act in a similar fashion.
And, finally, there’s a funny personal wrinkle to this Eleventh Circuit decision. I went to law school in Little Rock, Arkansas. My professor in several courses was a well-known expert in property and trusts with a wry personality and an ocean’s depth worth of intellectual wealth. His wife was a federal judge in Arkansas and she was part of the panel deciding this salvage decision as a visiting judge on the Eleventh Circuit. Small world.
So go salvage something. Be kinder than the other guy and wear your mask.
Somehow we gotta find a way. (Mac Miller. “Ladders.” Swimming. Warner Bros. Records, 2018)
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies.
Underway and making way. ■
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.