US Bodily Injury News
Punitive damages in seafarer cases: more good news…Not!
The State Courts in Washington and California have lost no time in issuing opinions that significantly broaden the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend (See BI News November 2009), a summary of the cases:
Washington State Court
Punitive damages are recoverable for wrongful death under the Jones Act and general maritime law. Nes v. Sea Warrior, 2010 AMC 2297 (Wash. Sup. Court, King County, July 16, 2010)
Louise S. Livingston Senior Claims Director and Bodily Injury Team Leader
California State Court
California trial court holds punitive damages recoverable in Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness cases. Larson v. Kona Blue Water Farms, LLC, 2010 AMC 1230, (Cal. Sup. Ct. Alameda, February 2010)
Plaintiff Larson’s complaint, filed before the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend, alleged severe injuries to his neck, back, arms and legs and that the defendant’s reckless disregard and gross negligence entitled him to an award of punitive damages. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Towing v. Townsend, defendant moved to dismiss the punitive damages claim as it related to the Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims. In a very lengthy decision discussing the interplay between State law and Federal Maritime law, the court concluded that punitive damages were recoverable in Jones Act and general maritime law causes of action under both the Supreme Court Atlantic Sounding case and a California case allowing punitive damages in a seaman injury case, Baptiste v. Superior Court. Note, however, that three months later a Federal Court in Hawaii denied the identical motion against the same defendant.
Plaintiff moved for a pre-trial order establishing her right to seek punitive damages under Jones Act negligence statute. In a decision lacking any facts or the circumstances giving rise to the motion, the King County Court (Judge Eidie), noting the Kona Blue Water decision above, and following Atlantic Sounding v. Townsend, held that punitive damages are available in maritime actions, including the Jones Act for wrongful death unless Congress clearly and intentionally removed that remedy from the Act. Because the Jones Act statute lacked any such clear intent, plaintiff Nes could recover punitive damages at trial.
Punitive damages awarded for the first time for failure to pay unearned wages. Lanphere v. Evich King County Superior Court Case No: 09-2-1576- 2SEA. January 2011.
Lanphere, a “fish picker” aboard a fishing vessel owned by defendant, was allegedly injured, when the pant leg of his rain gear became entangled the unguarded rotating shaft in the vessel’s engine room. Plaintiff had two knee surgeries, to reconstruct his medial collateral ligament, the medial meniscus and to reconstruct his posterior cruciate ligament. When Lanphere left the ship, his employer paid him $5,332 in estimated wages. The ship's gross earnings were $85,129 and plaintiff should have received $8,512 in wages. The employer’s adjuster only paid an additional $1,000 after the vessel’s gross earnings were calculated.
Lanphere filed suit under the Jones Act and general maritime law. He argued he was entitled to
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