Posted by : attorney stevelee

Punitive Damages Possible in Some Maritime Cases

Punitive damages are different from other types of damages that you may recover in a lawsuit. While most types of damages are meant to compensate you for the injuries that you have suffered, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for particularly egregious actions. They are not available in all cases—just in those cases where the defendant has acted particularly badly and punitive damages are allowed by law.

Punitive Damages in Maritime Injury Cases

In 2009, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the case of Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend. In that case, the Court found that punitive damages are possible pursuant to general maritime law, rather than pursuant to a specific law such as the Jones Act, if a seaman’s employer willfully disregards its obligation to pay maintenance and cure after a maritime injury.

The Townsend case marked a change in federal law regarding maritime punitive damages. The Court reasoned that punitive damages were allowed because:

  • Punitive damages for behavior that is wanton, willful, or outrageous has long been established by common law.
  • Punitive damages allowable under common law extend to federal maritime common law.
  • The Jones Act and federal maritime common law did not prevent the award of punitive damages.

Other courts, such as Washington State’s Supreme Court, have extended this reasoning to other types of maritime cases. In 2017, the Washington Court, for example, extended it to allow punitive damages in an unseaworthiness claim in the case of Tabingo v. American Triumph, LLC.

Currently, punitive damages are not available in all maritime injury cases. However, they can be an important part of your case if you have a claim for the willful failure to pay maintenance or cure or another claim where punitive damages may apply.

Punitive damages are just one piece of your total damages. In order to protect all of your damages, you should speak with an experienced maritime injury lawyer as soon as possible after you are hurt. Please contact us via this website or by phone at any time to schedule a free initial consultation.

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