Salvaging a corpse and filing a salvage claim

It’s close to Halloween and I love salvage, which makes the case of the salvaged corpse a good topic.

It was a couple of years after World War II in Bay Shore on New York’s Long Island. A man named Charles was on the Great South Bay aboard his flat-bottom skiff. He had a couple of thousand dollars in his pocket, but he was all out of luck.

At some point that day, he fell over and drowned. Three months later, a fellow happened upon his body and “attached a rope to it and towed it to Bay Shore.” The currency was turned over to the coroner. The fellow who’d towed the body, filed a salvage claim.

The issue in this peculiar case was whether money found on a body floating in navigable waters is subject to a salvage claim.

The court started with a Supreme Court decision that had allowed a salvage claim for the furniture or cargo of a ship including “wreck, flotsam, jetsam, ligan or derelict.” And with a serious eye, the court reasoned that a dead body “probably comes within the category of derelict.”

You can sometimes read a court’s decision and get a sense of its heading. Such is the case here where the court speaks favorably of a prior case involving the recovery of a steamship passenger’s body. In this case, the court wrote that even though there was no danger or expense it didn’t deprive the salvors of an award because “offsetting this circumstance was the unusual temptation to appropriate the entire property.”

That is, a salvage award was given to encourage the return of the body as opposed to its looting and secretive abandonment. With all that in mind, the court granted the salvage claim.

So, wow. I know you think I’ve somehow gotten high off of a strange mix of toner ink and caffeine, but this is a real case.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York and when you calculate the value of the money at issue in today’s dollars it’s about $25,000.

Underway and making way.

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.

Leave A Reply

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.