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Wilburn v. Maritrans GP Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
139 F.3d 350 (1998)


Michael Wilburn (plaintiff), while employed on a ship owned by Maritrans GP Inc. (Maritrans) (defendant), was swept off the deck during a storm. Wilburn was 38 years old and had been earning $44,000 a year as an able-bodied (AB) tankerman. Wilburn sued Maritrans, alleging negligence and unworthiness of the ship under general maritime law. After the incident, Wilburn still worked as an AB tankerman, compensating for his injuries by relying on his uninjured right arm and hand. At trial, experts testified that Wilburn’s trauma limited his economic opportunities. Dr. Steven Newman testified that Wilburn had permanent injuries to his left arm and shoulder that severely limited the mobility and use of his left arm and hand. Wilburn testified that the incident left him terrified of leaving the sight of land, also known as sailing coastwise. While Wilburn made several coastwise trips in good weather after the incident, he had not done so in bad weather. Wilburn also testified that he had applied to be a barge captain with a salary of $50,000 per year, but had been told he could not be a barge captain if he could not sail coastwise. Dr. Robert Sadoff testified that Wilburn’s fears were due to post-traumatic stress syndrome and that, to overcome those fears, Wilburn would have to go through a behavioral-desensitization program. This program would be impractical, according to Dr. Sadoff, because it would require the use of real commercial ships for therapeutic purposes. However, Dr. Sadoff also said that if Wilburn unexpectedly found himself in a storm on a coastwise ship, and Wilburn did not panic, this might be helpful in his recovery. The jury awarded Wilburn $1,000,000 for loss of future earning capacity. However, the district court granted Maritrans judgment as a matter of law, overturning the award of $1,000,000, because (1) there was insufficient evidence for a loss of future earning capacity and (2) $1,000,000 was excessive.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Alarcon, J.)

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