CASENOTE: Freeman & Mills, Inc. v. Belcher Oil Co.: Yes, The Seaman's Tort Is Dead * Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1996 McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific
Pacific Law Journal

CASENOTE: Freeman & Mills, Inc. v. Belcher Oil Co.: Yes, The Seaman's Tort Is Dead *

* The title refers to the question posed by Dana Rae Landsdorf in her Comment, California's Detortification of Contract Law: Is the Seaman's Tort Dead?, 26 LOY. L.A. L. REV. 213 (1992).

Spring, 1996

27 Pac. L.J. 1405


Robert L. Rancourt, Jr. **



The civil defense bar must have cringed on the day the California Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Seaman's Direct Buying Service v. Standard Oil Co. 2 Although Seaman's was a contract case, it created tort liability, in the form of punitive damages, for a defendant's bad faith denial of the existence of a contract. 3 The newfound liability in Seaman's gave plaintiffs another pigeonhole through which they could expose the deep pockets of corporate defendants to punitive damages awards. 4 However, it was evident right from the start that the new Seaman's tort would have difficulty ripening into a full-fledged theory of tort liability in contract cases. 5 Indeed, California courts expressed reluctance to apply the tort, sister states refused to adopt the tort, and legal commentators leveled heavy criticism at the new tort. 6 Suggestions that the state high court reconsider or eliminate the new tort came from all parts of the legal community. 7 The California Supreme Court heeded these requests when it overruled Seaman's in its recent decision of Freeman & Mills, Inc. v. Belcher Oil Co. 8

As discussed in Professor Kelso's prologue, this case forms part of the significant imprint left on California jurisprudence by retiring Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas. 9 This Casenote specifically reviews the legal landscape of the Seaman's tort, from its inception through its demise in Freeman & Mills, in Part II. The thrust of the note, Part III, is a consideration of the ...
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