5th Circuit: Punitives Available for Unseaworthiness*

by Matthew H. Ammerman on August 7th, 2014

After the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2009's Townsend case that punitive damages were available for willful and wanton denial of maintenance and cure, we wondered whether unseaworthiness was next.

The issue: A seaman's claim for unseaworthiness also arises under general maritime law -- are punitive damages available for willful and wanton unseaworthiness?

In October 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit answered affirmatively. Relying heavily on Townsend, the panel reasoned that unseaworthiness claims existed before the Jones Act was passed in 1920. If punitive damages were available under general maritime law, the panel reasoned, then punitive damages remain available to seamen as a remedy for the general maritime law claim of unseaworthiness for willful and wanton behavior reckless to the safety of the crew. All this despite the call for uniformity between general maritime law and federal statutes in the Miles case decided almost two decades before Townsend.

BUT stay tuned -- on February 24, 2014, the 5th Circuit granted hearing en banc by the entire court. The panel's ruling may be modified or changed.

McBride v. Estis Well Serv., L.L.C., 731 F.3d 505, 518 (5th Cir. 2013)(rehearing en banc granted February 24, 2014).


Posted in not categorized    Tagged with unseaworthiness, maritime punitive damages, mcbride v. estis

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