In the absence of a specific rule or statute, attorney’s fees are neither awardable nor taxable as costs in admiralty cases. Similarly, in the absence of some statutory authorization, the prevailing party in an admiralty case is generally not entitled to an award for attorneys’ fees.[i] Therefore, it is generally recognized that attorney’s fees are not awarded in admiralty cases except under certain circumstances.
In Gulf Puerto Rico Lines, Inc. v. Associated Food Co., 366 F. Supp. 631 (D.P.R. 1973), it was observed that in admiralty proceedings, fees of the counsel are neither allowable nor taxable as costs.[ii]
However, while considering a request for attorney’s fees in an admiralty case, courts must look to the federal law of admiralty to determine if fees can be awarded. Attorney’s fees and costs can be awarded in a civil case that is decided under the savings-to-suitors jurisdiction. The “savings to suitors” clause allows a party to proceed under either admiralty jurisdiction or general civil jurisdiction if both admiralty and non admiralty federal jurisdiction exists.[iii]
In Hughes v. Foster Wheeler Co., 932 P.2d 784 (Alaska 1997), the court observed that an award of attorney’s fees will only be reversed, if the award is arbitrary, capricious, manifestly unreasonable, or the result of an improper motive. It was also observed that in federal admiralty actions, an award of attorney’s fees as a component of maintenance and cure is traditionally within the equitable jurisdiction of the courts.
In Fed. Ins. Co. v. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16667 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 11, 2001), it was observed that in the case of an indemnitee, attorneys’ fees can be recovered from his/her indemnitor as part of the reasonable expenses of defending a claim. Similarly, in Sullivan v. Tropical Tuna, 963 F. Supp. 42 (D. Mass. 1997), the court observed that a seaman can recover attorneys’ fees as damages if a ship owner was callous, willful, or recalcitrant in withholding maintenance and cure payments.
Courts must consider the following factors in determining reasonable attorneys’ fees for a maintenance and cure claim: [iv]
- Time and labor required,
- Novelty and difficulty of the questions involved,
- Skill required to perform proper legal service;
- Preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case,
- Customary fee,
- Whether the fee is fixed or contingent,
- Time limitations imposed by the client
- Amount involved and the results obtained,
- Experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys,
- Unacceptability of the case,
- Professional relationship with the client, and
- Awards in similar cases
[i] Noritake Co. v. M/V Hellenic Champion, 627 F.2d 724 (5th Cir. Tex. 1980)
[ii] See also Kalmbach, Inc. v. Insurance Co. of Pennsylvania, Inc., 422 F. Supp. 44 (D. Alaska 1976)
[iii] Bartel v. A-C Prod. Liab. Trust, et. al, 461 F. Supp. 2d 600 (N.D. Ohio 2006)
[iv] Sullivan v. Tropical Tuna, 963 F. Supp. 42 (D. Mass. 1997)