No punitives in maritime negligence claim against 3rd party

by Matthew H. Ammerman on March 1st, 2017

A court in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana holds that punitive damages are not available in a general maritime law negligence claim against a 3rd party. Wade v. Clemco Indus. Corp., et al., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13580 (E.D. La. February 1, 2017).

Rose Wade, widow of a seaman, sued an equipment manufacturer, a silica company, and Chevron, all 3rd parties, for exposing her husband to asbestos through negligently-designed or marketed products resulting in her husband's death. She claimed the defendants were negligent under general maritime law and sought punitive damages. Judge Eldon Fallon dismissed her punitive-damage claims, holding they were not available under general maritime law.

Wade had no claims for punitive damages against her husband's employer for Jones Act negligence or unseaworthiness, that issue having been settled by the 5th Circuit in McBride v. Estis Well Serv., L.L.C., 768 F.3d 382 (5th Cir. 2014)(en banc).

But what about a general maritime law claim against non-employer 3rd parties? That issue has been the subject of conflicting federal district court opinions.

There is no Jones Act negligence claim against a non-employer 3rd party. That means that the widow's general maritime law claims for negligence stood on their own with no accompanying Jones Act negligence claim.

Judge Fallon reasoned that the uniformity principle espoused by the U.S. Supreme Court decades ago in the Miles case was reaffirmed by the 5th Circuit in the en banc McBride decision in 2014 and still applied. Therefore, 5th Circuit's past cases based on the Miles uniformity principle were still good law. In one such opinion from 2004, the 5th Circuit held that a seaman's widow may not recover nonpecuniary damages from a non-employer 3rd party under general maritime law. Consequently, Judge Fallon held Mrs. Wade's claims for non-pecuniary damages, here, punitive damages arising from a maritime negligence claim, must be dismissed.

The reasoning in Wade should also apply to other general maritime law negligence claims, such as vessel negligence asserted through Section 905(b) of the Longshore & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.


Posted in not categorized    Tagged with maritime punitive damages, mcbride, 5th Circuit, general maritime law, 905(b), seaman

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