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Justices Likely to Mull Key Maritime Rulings in Insurance Suit


The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to hear a dispute over whether a Pennsylvania federal court was right to apply New York law in a case over yacht insurance gives the justices a chance to address a pair of long-established high court rulings in the maritime space, attorneys say.


In its opinion, the Third Circuit also mentioned Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., a 1955 case where the Supreme Court held that maritime contracts, including insurance, are governed by federal admiralty law when there is an established federal rule, but that state law applies in the absence of a federal rule.


Thomas H. Belknap Jr., a partner at Blank Rome LLP, called Wilburn Boat the "seminal case in marine insurance," and said it will be interesting to see whether the high court justices choose to focus their analysis on that case or Bremen.

"It's kind of unclear what the Supreme Court sees in this case," Belknap said. "Whether they look at it as a way to go back and revisit Wilburn Boat and really focus on marine insurance, or if they're looking at the broader question of if you've got a choice-of-law clause in a maritime contract, is there a circumstance where state law can essentially vitiate that clause?"

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"Justices Likely to Mull Key Maritime Rulings in Insurance Suit," by Josh Libertore was published in Law360 on March 6, 2023.