DOOLEY v. KOREAN AIRLINES

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
97-704
Petitioner 
Dooley
Respondent 
Korean Airlines
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the respondent)
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

In 1983, Korean Air Lines (KAL) Flight KE007, en route from Alaska to South Korea entered the airspace of the former Soviet Union and was shot down. All 269 people on board were killed. Representatives of three of the passengers (petitioners) sued KAL for damages for their decedents' pre-death pain and suffering. While their suit was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co. In Zicherman, the Court held that the Warsaw Convention permits compensation only for legally cognizable harm and that the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) supplies the applicable U.S. law where an airplane crashes on the high seas. DOHSA allows certain relatives of a decedent to sue for their own pecuniary losses, but does not authorize recovery for the decedent's pre-death pain and suffering. Subsequently, the District Court granted KAL's motion to dismiss petitioners' nonpecuniary damages claims on the ground that DOHSA does not permit recovery for such damages. In affirming, the Court of Appeals rejected the argument that general maritime law provides a survival action for pain and suffering damages.

Question 

May certain relatives of decedents, in a case of death on the high seas, recover damages for their decedents' pre-death pain and suffering through a survival action under general maritime law?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Korean Airlines, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 46 U.S.C. App.

No. In an unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that "[b]ecause Congress has chosen not to authorize a survival action for a decedent's pre-death pain and suffering, there can be no general maritime survival action for such damages." Justice Thomas wrote for the Court that the "comprehensive scope of DOHSA is confirmed by its survival provision, which limits the recovery in such cases to the pecuniary losses suffered by surviving relatives. The Act thus expresses Congress' 'considered judgment' on the availability and contours of a survival action in cases of death on the high seas. For this reason, it cannot be contended that DOHSA has no bearing on survival actions; rather, Congress has simply chosen to adopt a more limited survival provision."

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DOOLEY v. KOREAN AIRLINES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 12 December 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_97_704>.
DOOLEY v. KOREAN AIRLINES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_97_704 (last visited December 12, 2014).
"DOOLEY v. KOREAN AIRLINES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed December 12, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1997/1997_97_704.