Thursday, October 26, 2017
In the recent issue of WorkBoat magazine, Tim covers the operation
of a release form in the realm of maritime litigation. The matter
involved the litigation of a Jones Act claim by an injured commercial
fishermen. A release had been signed in a jurisdiction outside of
the United States. Although maritime injury cases can involve a
number of important pleadings, such as the summons and
complaint, answer, bill of particulars, as well as numerous motions
for summary judgment or to dismiss, one of the most fundamental
documents in the myriad compendium of litigation papers is the
release, sometimes designated as full and final release, or some
other variant using the term settlement. When injuries are
adjudicated in any federal or state venue, the plaintiff and defendant
must come to final settlement terms in their release documents. In
the case at hand, the federal district court held that because a
release had been signed by the commercial mariner who was the
claimant in the matter, subsequent prosecution of monetary
damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and other
economic or non-economic loss could not be further litigated in the
face of an existing release that had been signed and executed,
even if the forum was outside the jurisdiction of the admiralty court
presiding over the matter. In a nutshell... the lesson is that releases
count, and that signing one on the dotted line seals the deal.
The Legal Significance of a Release
Many commercial vessels today are equipped with quick release
towing hooks. These ingenious contraptions enable crews to part
ways with taut tow lines quickly with a lanyard or actuator. Since
such lines can present a danger to personnel, the idea of releasing
them in a swift and clean manner makes sense.
“Releasing lines” and parting ways in one fell swoop could also
mirror how parties in a lawsuit feel when they’re finishing things up
at the end. Whether the matter involves a shipyard dispute or injury,
everyone wants to move on after a settlement has been reached.
After long negotiations, settlement terms could be reduced to a
single form called a release.
Like that quick release towing hook, the release form enables
parties to conclude things in a clean, decisive manner. A release
basically says that in exchange for so many dollars, the plaintiff
releases the other side from all further claims, as in, “Sign this, take
the money, and we’re done here.”
A recent lawsuit in Seattle could demonstrate that releases are
taken seriously. The matter involved a crew member on a
commercial fishing vessel. It could have just as well been an OSV
or passenger ship. What’s important is that a release was signed
and the court recognized its significance.
The crew member had been hired in American Samoa as a
deckhand. His employment contract contained a clause calling for
arbitration in American Samoa. About two weeks later, he was
injured. He was taken to the Philippines where he underwent
surgery. While recovering, he expressed interest in settling his
He and the vessel interests agreed upon a settlement figure. The
deckhand signed a release which included a statement, “THIS IS A
RELEASE. I AM GIVING UP EVERY RIGHT I HAVE.” Based on this, a
maritime arbitrator sealed the deal with an arbitral award.
Subsequently, the deckhand brought legal action against the vessel
interests in Washington State. The vessel interests moved to
enforce the arbitral award, which was based on the release signed
by the deckhand. The court ruled in favor of the vessel interests.
This shows the significance of releases and the weight given to
them by courts.
Castro v. Tri Marine Fish Company, Case No. C17-8RSL, U.S.
District Court, Western District of Washington at Seattle
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