Keeping salvage simple

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently highlighted with canary yellow marker what entitles you to make a salvage claim. By doing so, the court refastened the established elements of maritime salvage law. Don’t leave money on the galley table because you don’t understand the pieces you need to build a claim of salvage.

The appeal was brought by a salvor who’d rendered services to a big yacht. The yacht went adrift as a result of its shaft divorcing the gear box all while seawater rushed in to join the party. A distress call was issued, and 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. It stated that “maritime peril” must be coupled to 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 applied, the salvor appealed. In November, the Eleventh Circuit correctly ruled that “maritime peril” stands alone. A salvor does not need to show that the salvaged 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 classic examples of maritime peril.

After the ruling, the Eleventh Circuit reminded 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 low (right where it is) because salvage should be encouraged, not lassoed as so many interests seem to want to do.

Sure, salvage claims can be large, but why shouldn’t they be?

The salvor is risking life and property to come to the aid of someone else’s property.

About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at john@fulweilerlaw.com . His website is www.saltwaterlaw.com.

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