Compensation and Reward for Saving Life at Sea

This Article explores the life salvage rules under the general maritime law and under the 1912 life salvage statute. Surprisingly, some life salvors had greater rights under the general maritime law than they have under cases construing the statute. This Article suggests that courts have given insufficient attention to the purposes of the Brussels Salvage Convention of 1910, which inspired the 1912 statute, and that American courts should .remain free to recognize all rights that life salvors possessed before the Brussels Convention.

This Article then considers whether American courts should further expand the rights of life salvors by awarding life salvage even when no property is saved. A few courts have resorted to some ingenious devices to compensate rescuers or would-be rescuers of human life who would not have been entitled to any life salvage under the established rules of law. This Article suggests that if a case like the Titanic were to come before an American court today, the court should compensate the life salvors for their personal injuries and reasonable expenses and should have the discretion to reward them for extraordinary acts of heroism. The same relief should also be available to certain classes of unsuccessful rescuers. In all cases American courts should formally renounce the vestiges of a doctrine that denies those who save lives an award that is given to those who save property.