Thursday, October 10, 2013
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held last week an injured seaman may recover punitive damages for the employer's willful and wanton breach of the maritime duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. The case is McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C., No. 12-30714 (5th Cir., October 2, 2013).
The court's central legal principal, citing Atl. Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), is "if a general maritime law cause of action and remedy were established before the passage of the Jones Act, and if the Jones Act did not address that cause of action or remedy, then that remedy remains available under the cause of action unless and until Congress intercedes." In McBride, the court found, and Estis did not dispute that both the cause of action (unseaworthiness) and the remedy (punitive damages) were established before the Jones Act became law. The court determined that the Jones Act does not address unseaworthiness or limits the remedies for that claim. The court concluded that punitive damages are available to seamen asserting and unseaworthiness claim where willful and wanton conduct is proven.