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Hillier v. Southern Towing Co.

August 3, 1984

EVELYN HILLIER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF HENRY HILLIER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SOUTHERN TOWING COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT, AND IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF MEMPHIS TOWING COMPANY, A CORPORATION, FOR EXONERATION FROM, OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, APPELLEE, AND IN THE MATTER OF THE COMPLAINT OF C.F. INDUSTRIES, INC., AS BAREBOAT CHARTERER AND OWNER PRO HAC VICE OF THE BARGE CF-105-B, FOR EXONERATION FROM, OR LIMITATION OF LIABILITY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Alton Division. Nos. 80 C 5030 and 80 C 5331 -- William L. Beatty, Judge

Author: Flaum

Before FLAUM, Circuit Judge, PELL, Senior Circuit Judge, and KELLAM, Senior District Judge.*fn*

FLAUM, Circuit Judge. The sole issue presented for review in this court is whether the district court, pursuant to its admiralty jurisdiction, erroneously denied the plaintiff prejudgment interest on the damages award for future loss of support and services, pain and suffering, and loss of society for the death of her husband. For the reasons which follow, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I.

This suit stems from the accidental death of Henry Hillier in September 1979. The defendants-appellees filed Petitions for Exoneration or Limitation of Liability in Admiralty. Although defendants initially denied liability for plaintiff's wrongful death claims, prior to trial they filed unqualified admissions of liability. The case proceeded to trial only on the issue of damages. A companion civil case against Southern Towing Company was tried contemporaneously before a jury and the same jury served in an advisory capacity for the admiralty claims.*fn1

After trial the jury assessed the plaintiff's damages at $520,000. The district judge, sitting in admiralty, adopted the jury's assessment and entered judgment against defendants-appellees in that amount. The damages were broken down as follows: $35,000 for past support; $210,000 as the present value of the future loss of support (discounted to time of trial); $95,673 as the present value for future services; $6,583.35 for past loss of services; $5,000 for decedent's conscious pain and suffering; and $172,743.65 for loss of society. After extensive briefing on the issue, the district court awarded prejudgment interest on past loss of support and services but denied prejudgment interest on the damages for future loss of support and services and on damages for pain and suffering and loss of society. Plaintiff appeals from the judgment of the district court.

II.

Upon a review of the case law cited by the parties it is evident that there are "well-established" rules that, upon further investigation, are not that "well-established" in actuality. Plaintiffs assert that the propriety of awards of prejudgment interest in admiralty cases is clearly settled.*fn2 Masters v. Transworld Drilling Co., 688 F.2d 1013 (5th Cir. 1982). McCormack v. Noble Drilling Corp., 608 F.2d 169 (5th Cir. 1979). The decision of whether to award prejudgment interest lies within the sound discretion of the district court; however, it is an abuse of discretion to deny prejudgment interest absent "peculiar circumstances" justifying denial. Noritake Co., Inc. v. M/V Hellenic Champion, 627 F.2d 724 (5th Cir. 1980); see also First National Bank of Chicago v. Material Service Corp.

"Peculiar circumstances" have been found to justify denial of prejudgment interest in circumstances where, for example, the plaintiff improperly delays the pursuit of a claim; or where there is a genuine dispute over a good faith claim in situations of mutual fault. Noritake, 627 F.2d at 728. The existence of "peculiar circumstances" is a factual issue and is reviewed on the basis of a "clearly erroneous" standard. Id. at 729. If the determination is not clearly erroneous, the appellate court reviews the award or denial of prejudgment interest for abuse of the trial court's discretion. Id.

The other "well-established" rule in admiralty cases, cited by defendants, is that the doctrine of restitutio in integrum controls the determination of the appropriateness of the award of prejudgment interest. The doctrine of restitutio in integrum provides that a plaintiff is to be placed in the position previously enjoyed prior to the time he or she sustained damages; the plaintiff is to be made whole, in monetary terms. See Petition of the City of New York, 332 F.2d 1006 (2d Cir. 1964); National Airlines v. Stiles, 268 F.2d at 405. Defendants suggest that plaintiff has already been made whole by the award and, therefore, prejudgment interest was appropriately denied.

These two "well-established" doctrines are not mutually exclusive, rather, the two doctrines complement one another. Prejudgment interest has often been awarded to recovering plaintiffs in order to award "fair and just compensation for the pecuniary loss sustained" thereby making plaintiffs whole. First National Bank of Chicago v. Material Service Corp., 597 F.2d at 1121; National Airlines v. Stiles, 268 F.2d at 405. The award of prejudgment interest is only designed to compensate a plaintiff and is not awarded as a penalty. Noritake, 627 F.2d at 728. The real dispute arises in the interpretation of the doctrine of restitutio in integrum and how courts assess damages.

While it is clear that an award of prejudgment interest in admiralty is appropriate, what is unclear is how and when prejudgment interest is to be added to the damages award. See generally Annot., 34 A.L.R. Fed. 126 (1977). Several courts, without much discussion have awarded prejudgment interest on the entire damages award. See Drachenberg v. Canal Barge Company, 621 F.2d 760 (5th Cir. 1980); McCormack v. Noble Drilling Corp., 608 F.2d 169 (5th Cir. 1979). Other courts have tried to calculate damages more precisely by dividing damages into past and future losses. These courts have discounted the present value for future losses to the date of trial and awarded prejudgment interest only for those losses accruing prior to judgment. Petition of the City of New York, 332 F.2d at 1008-9; Red Star Towing & Transportaion Co., Inc. v. Cargo Ship "Ming Giant", 563 F. Supp. 224 (S.D.N.Y. 1983); Hamilton v. Canal Barge Company, Inc., 395 F. Supp. 978 (E.D. La. 1975); Petition of Marina Mercante Nicaraguense, S.A., 248 F. Supp. 15 (S.D. N.Y. 1965), modified on other grounds, 364 F.2d 118 (2d Cir. 1966), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 1005, 17 L. Ed. 2d 544, 87 S. Ct. 710 (1967). Cf. In Re Air Crash Disaster Near Chicago, 644 F.2d 633 (7th Cir. 1981).*fn3

In turning to the facts of this case, we note that the district judge (and the advisory jury) divided damages for support and loss of services into future and past components. Another aspect of the damages award, loss of society, was not divided into the same components. The judge granted prejudgment interest only for past losses. The district court did not award prejudgment interest on the amount of decedent's pain and suffering or for the plaintiff's loss of society. The district judge noted that the law does not allow for prejudgment interest for the intangible damages of pain and suffering and loss of society.

The district court, within its discretion, appropriately divided damages between past and future losses. In addition, the district court properly, within its discretion, refused to award prejudgment interest on the future damages which had been discounted to present value as of the date of the trial. See Petition of the City of New York, 332 F.2d at 1008 ("[to] the extent that there are elements of future losses which are represented in the final damages prejudgment interest is, of course, no appropriate"); Red Star Towing v. Cargo ...


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