Fifth Circuit Affirms Denial of Recovery to Maritime Tort Claimants with Purely Economic Claims 

In a recent decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals applied prevailing U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedents to affirm the dismissal of a class action lawsuit seeking to recover damages resulting from the allision of a vessel owned by Appellee, Bertucci Contracting Col, LLC, with the Leo Kerner Bridge in Louisiana.  In re: Bertucci Contracting Co., L.L.C., No. 12-30780 (5th Cir. March 22, 2013).
The Appellants in Bertucci were residents of Barataria, Louisiana, a community linked by the Leo Kerner Bridge to the community of Lafitte, Louisiana. Appellants contended that the closure of the bridge for repairs following the allision resulted in damages including loss of use of property, loss of income and revenue due to restricted access to their homes and businesses, and damages due to inconvenience. The District Court granted Bertucci’s motion to dismiss Appellants’ claims, holding that recovery for economic damages is barred in maritime negligence cases unless a plaintiff sustains physical damage to a proprietary interest.
On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the “unmistakable” law within the Circuit that a party may not recover damages for purely economic claims in a maritime negligence lawsuit unless the party has sustained physical damage to a proprietary interest. The Court rejected Appellant’s arguments that the matter should be decided under Louisiana state law because they were not “maritime actors”, citing the numerous Fifth Circuit decisions that had denied recovery to similarly situated plaintiffs. Similarly, the Court relied on Circuit precedents and principles of maritime law in rejecting Appellants’ argument that Louisiana state law supplied an alternative remedy, finding that the claims at issue arose from an alleged tort by a vessel on a navigable waterway, and were properly within the maritime jurisdiction of the federal courts. Finally, the Court rejected Appellants’ alternative argument that some of the claimants might have suffered physical injuries and, as such, the District Court had erred in dismissing their claims. The Court affirmed the District Court’s finding that Appellants had alleged no facts, even when viewed in the light most favorable to Appellants, that plausibly stated a claim for physical damages. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Appellants’ claims in their entirety.    

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