Public policy challenge to arbitration award sinks at sea

rickmers_dailanLito Asignacion, a Filipino seaman, worked aboard the M/V RICKMERS DALIAN (right, en route to Antwerp at the time of this post) – a “superflex heavy” container ship owned by a German company and flying the flag of the Marshall Islands.  Severely burned in an onboard accident, he went to arbitration in the Phillippines under Filipino law, and received an award of $1,700 — significantly less than U.S. maritime law would afford.  The district court refused to enforce the award on public policy grounds, and the Fifth Circuit reversed.  Asignacion v. Rickmers Genoa, No. 14-30132 (April 16, 2015).  Acknowledging the strong U.S. policy that gives “special solicitude to seamen” and treats them as “wards of admiralty,” the Court found it outweighed by the policy in favor of arbitration, coupled with unique considerations about the legal arrangements under which Filipino citizens find employment at sea.  It also rejected a challenge based on the “prospective waiver” doctrine, finding that the Supreme Court had not extended it beyond purely statutory rights.

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