Kreindler & Kreindler LLP recently won a significant maritime legal battle in the United States Supreme Court. The victory cleared the way for the widow of a Lockheed Martin employee to bring suit against Lockheed Martin for his drowning death in Cayuga Lake in upstate New York.
On December 20, 2000, Rocco Morganti, a test engineer employed by Lockheed Martin Naval Electronic & Surveillance Systems for 15 years, suffered a fatal accident on a work boat returning him to shore on Cayuga Lake. Mr. Morganti was conducting underwater tests of Lockheed transducers (a component required for sonar equipment used by the U.S. Navy) on Lockheed's floating work platform on Cayuga Lake when he fell into the icy waters of the lake while untying the boat. Rescue efforts failed, Mr. Morganti drowned and his body was recovered later.
While other law firms who reviewed the case concluded that any action against Lockheed Martin would be barred by New York State Worker's Compensation law, Kreindler & Kreindler argued that the decedent was a Longshoreman who was covered under the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act ("LHWCA") and, therefore, his widow should be entitled to bring suit against Lockheed Martin who owned the vessel from which he fell into Cayuga Lake. The Benefits Review Board, which hears LHWCA case appeals, agreed with our position. Lockheed Martin then appealed that ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit after hearing oral argument from Kreindler partner Daniel Rose, issued an opinion on June 24, 2005 affirming The Board's decision.
Lockheed Martin then sought review from the United States Supreme Court. On May 30, 2006 the Supreme Court denied Lockheed Martin's Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in which the Syracuse based government contractor presented arguments that, if accepted and successful, would have barred Mrs. Morganti from bringing a lawsuit for damages. At the heart of the dispute was the interpretation and application of the LHWCA and prior Supreme Court decisions which provide substantial benefits to employees who are injured while working on or about navigable waters of the United States and also provide employees, like Mr. Morganti, a right to sue their employers for damages when injured as a result of the negligent operation of the employer's vessel. The recent victory in the High Court has broad and positive implications for people engaged in maritime employment and injured, especially when employers and manufacturers are routinely seeking to limit damages generally.