Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc.,
398 U.S. 375 (1970)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375 (1970)

Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc.

No. 175

Argued March 4, 1970

Decided June 15, 1970

98 U.S. 375


Petitioner is not foreclosed from bringing this action under federal maritime law, based on unseaworthiness, for the wrongful death within state territorial waters of her husband. a longshoreman, as a wrongful death action under such law is maintainable for breach of maritime duties. The Harrisburg, 119 U. S. 199, overruled. Pp. 398 U. S. 379-409.

409 F.2d 32, reversed and remanded.

Primary Holding

A wrongful death action does exist in maritime law.


While performing his duties as a longshoreman on the vessel Palmetto State, Edward Moragne suffered a fatal accident. His widow brought a wrongful death claim against the owner of the vessel, States Marine Lines, Inc. Since the accident had happened in navigable waters, the state court ruled that maritime law. This meant that there could be no claim for wrongful death, which is not incorporated in maritime law.



  • John Marshall Harlan II (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • William Orville Douglas
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall

Overruling the Court's decision in The Harrisburg (1886), Harlan cited the existence of an overwhelming consensus in favor of allowing wrongful death actions. They had become part of the law in all 50 states and were based on a strong public policy intended to prevent negligent parties from escaping liability for causing a death when they would be liable for causing an injury. Harlan saw no reason why the same policy reasons would not apply to fatal accidents on navigable waters. He refrained from determining which relationships to the deceased would qualify individuals to bring a claim.


  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)

Case Commentary

The Supreme Court showed deference to the states in finding that their enactment of wrongful death laws suggested that general public policy favored this action. It also broke away from the traditional rule that an act that was a crime as well as a tort could not impose civil in addition to criminal liability.

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