The Eleventh Circuit recently addressed the interplay between the Public Vessels Act (“PVA”) and the Suits in Admiralty Act (“SAA”) as it related to negligence claims against the Coast Guard. In Uralde, the Coast Guard dispatched a boat to intercept a private vessel trying to illegally enter the United States with several Cuban citizens. A chase ensued, and it did not end until a Coast Guard officer fired two rounds into the private vessel’s engine. The sudden stop caused one of the passengers to strike her head, an injury which eventually led to her death. The plaintiff-widower launched a negligence suit against the Coast Guard, and his negligence theories were “based in the Coast Guard’s decisions regarding whether and how to provide proper medical care and timely access to medical treatment of a passenger on a private vessel interdicted at sea.”
Analyzing both Acts together, the Eleventh Circuit determined that “the sovereign immunity waivers of the PVA and SAA now cover all relevant admiralty claims involving public vessels. Claims seeking relief for damages caused directly by a public vessel, or by the negligent operation thereof, fall under the PVA. The SAA covers all remaining admiralty claims, including those simply ‘involving public vessels.’ Accordingly, when Coast Guard personnel are negligent in performing functions other than those ‘in the operation of’ public vessels, the claims arising from those acts fall under the SAA, rather than the PVA.” Uralde, at *3 (internal citations omitted).
In this case, the plaintiff-widow’s claims did not involve the Coast Guard’s operation of a public vessel. As such, his claims fell under the SAA.
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)