When admiralty law applies, deceased employees can recover against
Alaska under an applicable state workers' compensation law or under
general maritime tort principles. See Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis,
515 U.S. 347, 356, 115 S.Ct. 2172, 132 L.Ed.2d 314 (1995). Whether the
crew members in this case are limited to their workers' compensation
remedies against Alaska, or whether they can maintain a maritime action,
may depend on which state's workers' compensation laws apply. In Chan v.
Society Expeditions Inc., 39 F.3d 1398, 1402 (9th Cir. 1994), the Ninth
Circuit permitted a Washington state employee to maintain a maritime
negligence claim against his employer because that state's law exempted
maritime actions from its worker's compensation exclusivity provision.
However, in the absence of such an exception, other decisions have barred
an employees maritime claim against his employer based on the applicable
state's workers' compensation exclusivity provision See Brockington v.
Certified, 903 F.2d 1523, 1533 (11th Cir. 1990). This court makes no
ruling on those issues at this time.
A third consequence of the application of maritime law is that all of
the claims will be subject to one body of law, except as governed by the
Warsaw Convention or workmen's compensation. Although that relative
uniformity was not the reason for this court's decision, it is a
consequence of it. And the parties and the court will generally be spared
the task of applying state choice of law rules in an attempt to determine
the substantive law of the numerous jurisdictions which had a
relationship with these cases.
Finally, this court need not determine precisely where the plane
crashed. Since maritime law is to apply, it is not important to know
whether or not the crash took place within California's territorial
waters. As long as the crash occurred in navigable waters (as it did),
and short of the jurisdiction of the Death on the High Seas Act (as the
parties concede), the precise location of the crash is not determinative
of the law to be applied.
The above decisions having been made,*fn4 the court now notes Alaska's
statement that it intends to make offers of settlement. The plaintiffs
are of course interested in such offers, and the plaintiffs' steering
committee has an additional interest because of its management of the
plaintiffs' expense fund. The parties are free to make whatever
settlements they mutually desire. But any plaintiff who does not settle
by August 31, 2001 will be obliged to contribute to the plaintiffs'
The parties may also now commence discovery. More specifically, the
parties are to reply to one another's written discovery requests, which
have heretofore been served, by June 1, 2001. Other written discovery and
depositions may now initiated. However the discovery is subject to the
(1) There should be no discovery against Alaska on the subject of
punitive damages, since this court has held that such damages are barred
by the Warsaw Convention.
(2) The discovery should not interfere with the ongoing investigation
and technical reviews by the National Transportation Safety Board.
This case will be reassigned to another judge of this court because of
the retirement of the undersigned on June 30, 2001. The court therefore
does not believe that it
would be appropriate for the undersigned to now schedule the dates for
the completion of discovery, final motions, pretrial and trial.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that there will be a status conference before
the newly assigned judge on September 7, 2001 at 11:00 a.m., subject to
modification by the assigned judge. The status conference will be to
advise the court of the progress of the settlement discussions and the
progress of discovery, and to set dates for the remainder of the case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.