Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. v. Calhoun

PETITIONER:Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A.
LOCATION:Virginia Military Institute

DOCKET NO.: 94-1387
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 516 US 199 (1996)
ARGUED: Oct 31, 1995
DECIDED: Jan 09, 1996

Alan B. Morrison – Argued the cause for the respondents
James W. Bartlett, III – Argued the cause for the petitioners
Paul A. Engelmayer – on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1989, 12-year-old Natalie Calhoun died in a collision in territorial waters off Puerto Rico while riding a Yamaha jet ski. Natalie’s parents, invoking Pennsylvania’s wrongful-death and survival statutes, filed a federal diversity and admiralty action for damages against Yamaha. Yamaha argued that, because Natalie died on navigable waters, state remedies could not be applied, and that federal, judge-declared maritime law controlled to the exclusion of state law. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the District Court held that the federal maritime wrongful-death action excluded state law remedies, but that loss of society and loss of support and services were compensable. Both sides ask for an appeal. After granting the interlocutory review petition, the appellate panel held that state remedies remain applicable in accident cases of this type and have not been displaced by the federal maritime wrongful-death action.


Do state remedies apply in maritime wrongful-death cases in which no federal statute specifies the appropriate relief and the decedent was not a seaman, longshore worker, or person otherwise engaged in a maritime trade?

Media for Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. v. Calhoun

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 31, 1995 in Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. v. Calhoun

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 09, 1996 in Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. v. Calhoun

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No.94-1387, Yamaha Motor Corporation versus Calhoun will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This controversy sends some of the tragic death of 12 year old Natalie Calhoun in the summer of 1989 in a jet ski accident.

On vacation with family friends at the Beach Park resort in Puerto Rico, Natalie whose home state was Pennsylvania rented a jet ski made by petitioner Yamaha Motor Corporation.

While riding the jet ski, Natalie slammed into a vessel anchored in waters fronting the hotel and was killed.

Natalie’s parents, respondent Lucien and Robin Calhoun sued Yamaha in Federal District Court alleging that the jet ski was defectively designed or made.

The Calhouns sought to recover damages under Pennsylvania’s wrongful death and survival statutes.

Yamaha argued that state remedies could not be applied because the death occurred in navigable waters.

In 1970, in Moragne against States Marine Lines this Court recognized a federal maritime action for wrongful death.

That action governed, Yamaha contended, to the exclusion of more generous remedies available under state law.

The District Court agreed with Yamaha that state remedies were unavailable to the Calhouns but the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit disagreed.

We hold in accord with the Third Circuit that state wrongful death remedies remain applicable in cases of disorder in which no federal status specifies the appropriate relief and the decision was not engage in a maritime trade.

Traditionally, courts have applied state remedy in such cases, the sole question we address is whether the Moragne decision could an end to that practice.

Our answer is no.

Moragne centered on the extension of relief, where there was ones avoid and not on a contraction of remedies.

Grounded in a humane and liberal character of admiralty law, Moragne cannot be read to displace state remedy traditionally available to believe parties like the Calhouns.

The decision is unanimous.