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Inside the Blackwall Box: Explaining U.S. Marine Salvage Awards

Joshua Teitelbaum

Supreme Court Economic Review, 2015, vol. 22, issue 1, 55 - 121

Abstract: Under U.S. maritime law, a salvor of imperiled maritime property on navigable waters is entitled to a monetary award from the owner. When the salvage service is rendered voluntarily in the absence of a contract, the court determines the salvage award according to six factors enumerated by the Supreme Court in The Blackwall, 77 US (10 Wall) 1 (1869). The law, however, does not specify a precise formula or rule for calculating awards on the basis of the Blackwall factors. How do courts turn their findings on the Blackwall factors into salvage awards? This Article addresses this question by examining the reported decisions of U.S. courts in salvage cases from 1799 to 2007. It employs two statistical methods--fractional polynomial regression and regression tree analysis--to make inferences about the mapping from factors to awards implicit in the salvage cases. In addition to presenting the first systematic empirical study of U.S. marine salvage awards, which complements the traditional doctrinal analysis offered by maritime commentators, an important contribution of the Article is that it showcases statistical methods that are well suited to empirical doctrinal analysis but are underutilized in legal scholarship.

Date: 2015
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