Moragne v. States Marine Lines

Quick Facts

Supreme Court of the United States rejects an earlier decision which did not allow wrongful death suits in maritime waters.


Plaintiff (deceased’s wife) brought action against the Defendant (owner of the vessel) to recover for damages for wrongful death and for the pain and suffering experienced by her husband prior to his death.


Should the wife be allowed to pursue a wrongful death action in maritime law?




Maritime law does allow a cause of action for wrongful death.

Court reasoning

–          In this country the felony punishment did not include forfeiture of property; therefore, there was nothing to bar a civil suit.

–          (Old Law) Personal cause of action did not survive the death of its possessor.

  • This old rule has no relation to the dependants (it just talks about the tortfeasor his-self and does not address family members).
  • Has no bearing on whether a dependant  should be permitted to recover for the injury he suffers from the victim’s death.

–          The recognition of a wrongful death statute in maritime laws can be expected to bring more placid waters.


Felony-Merger Rule – common law did not allow civil recovery for an act that constituted both a tort, and a felony.

–          Action was death of the felon, and forfeiture of his property to the “crown.”

–          After the crime had been punished, nothing remained of the felon or his property on which to base a civil action.

–          Since all intentional or negligent homicide was felonious, there could be no civil suit for wrongful death.

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