August 3, 2010
Judge throws out Spain's $1 billion suit against ABS
A $1 billion suit by Spain against the American Bureau of Shipping over the 2002 Prestige oil spill has been thrown out by U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.
Spain claimed that ABS was reckless in certifying the single-hulled tanker Prestige as fit to carry fuel.
Judge Swain ruled against Spain in the case in 2008 on the ground that her court lacked jurisdiction over Spain's claim. A federal appeals court overturned that decision and sent the case back to Judge Swain.
Today, Judge Swain wrote in her opinion that "Spain has identified no precedent for the duty it posits to avoid recklessness, and this Court is not persuaded that any such duty to coastal states attended ABS's vessel certification activities under federal maritime law. Spain's proposed rule - that a classification society owes a duty to refrain from reckless behavior to all coastal states that could foreseeably be harmed by failures of classified ships - would constitute an unwarranted expansion of the existing scope of tort liability. More importantly, by relieving shipowners of their ultimate responsibility for certified ships, such a rule would be inconsistent with the shipowner's nondelegable duty to ensure the seaworthiness of the ship, a duty that is grounded in the practical reality that the shipowner 'is ultimately . . . in control of the activities aboard ship.' "
She also wrote that "the only question before the Court in this action is whether a classification society that performed services on behalf of a shipowner can properly be held liable to an injured coastal state on the basis of reckless certification-related conduct. The legal authorities discussed [in the opinion] demonstrate that it cannot; they do not distinguish between damages that are limited to private parties and damages suffered widely by the public. Accordingly, ABS is entitled to summary judgment and its motion is granted."
You can read Judge Swain's opinion HERE