Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire - 477 U.S. 207 (1986)
U.S. Supreme Court
Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207 (1986)
Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire
Argued February 24, 1986
Decided June 23, 1986
477 U.S. 207
Respondents' husbands were killed when petitioner Air Logistic's helicopter crashed in the high seas 35 miles off the Louisiana coast while transporting the decedents from the offshore drilling platform where they worked to Louisiana. Respondents each filed a wrongful death action (later consolidated) in Federal District Court, raising claims under the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), and Louisiana law. Ruling that DOHSA provides the exclusive remedy for death on the high seas, the District Court dismissed respondents' claims based on the Louisiana wrongful death statute. Petitioner Air Logistics having admitted liability, the trial was limited to the question of damages. Because DOHSA limits recovery to "fair and just compensation for . . . pecuniary loss," the court's awards to respondents did not include damages for nonpecuniary losses. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's denial of nonpecuniary benefits recoverable under the Louisiana wrongful death statute, holding that state law could apply of its own force by virtue of § 7 of DOHSA, which provides that "[t]he provisions of any State statute giving or regulating rights of action or remedies for death shall not be affected" by the Act. The court concluded, on the basis of § 7's legislative history, that the section was intended to preserve the applicability of state wrongful death statutes on the high seas, and that Louisiana had legislative jurisdiction to extend its wrongful death statute to remedy deaths on the high seas, and in fact had intended its statute to have that effect.
Held: Neither OCSLA nor DOHSA requires or permits the application of the Louisiana wrongful death statute in this case so as to entitle respondents to recover nonpecuniary damages under that statute. Pp. 477 U. S. 217-233.
(a) Because the fatalities in question did not arise from an accident in the area covered by OCSLA, i.e., "the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf, and artificial islands and fixed structures" erected thereon, but rather occurred on the high seas, DOHSA, which provides a maritime remedy for wrongful deaths "occurring on the high seas" plainly was intended to control. The character of the decedents as platform workers who had a special relationship with the shore community
has no relevance to the resolution of the question of the application of OCSLA to this case. Pp. 477 U. S. 217-220.
(b) The language of § 7 of DOHSA and its legislative history, as well as the congressional purposes underlying DOHSA, mandate that § 7 be read not as an endorsement of the application of state wrongful death statutes to the high seas, but rather as a jurisdictional saving clause ensuring that state courts have the right to entertain causes of action and provide wrongful death remedies both for accidents occurring on state territorial waters and, under DOHSA, for accidents occurring on the high seas. Viewed in this light, § 7 serves not to destroy the uniformity of wrongful death remedies on the high seas, but to facilitate the efficient and just administration of those remedies. Pp. 477 U. S. 220-232.
(c) Once it is determined that § 7 does not sanction the applicability of state wrongful death statutes to accidents on the high seas, it must be concluded that state wrongful death statutes are preempted by DOHSA where it applies. Pp. 477 U. S. 232-233.
754 F.2d 1274, reversed and remanded.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, and in Part III of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 233.