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Court rules no punitive damages in Jones Act cases

On Sept. 25, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals filed a decision in the case of McBride v. Estis Well Service, LLC, concluding that punitive damages are not available to plaintiffs of lawsuits filed under the Jones Act. Typically, these suits are filed in connection with injuries or fatalities suffered on a sea vessel while working. With its decision, the court affirmed an earlier U.S. District Court decision in the Louisiana case.

The Jones Act allows for claimants in maritime cases to seek pecuniary losses. The appellate court found that punitive damages are meant to punish employers for willful and wanton behavior and thus do not qualify as pecuniary losses. The ruling means that claimants in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits brought under the Jones Act are not eligible to recover noneconomic losses deriving from maritime accidents.

In the McBride case, a truck-mounted drilling rig in Bayou Sorrell fell over, pinning and killing one worker while seriously injuring three others. The subsequent suits brought against the owner and operator of the drilling rig were consolidated, and that is when the defendant argued for the punitive claims to be dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiffs were seeking noneconomic damages.

As this case illustrates, civil action that arises from maritime workplace accidents causing injury or death can be exceedingly complex and adversarial. Furthermore, the language of the laws surrounding these cases can be impenetrable itself and difficult to navigate. That, in large part, is why it is imperative for people who suffered damages in connection with such an accident to retain the counsel of a personal injury attorney. The lawyer may help claimants prove that the parties at fault for the accident should be held responsible, in which case claimants may receive compensation for the pecuniary losses they suffered as a result of the accident.

Sources: McBride v. Estis Well Service, LLC, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, Sept. 25, 2014. http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions%5Cpub%5C12/12-30714-CV2.pdf.

Mondaq, "Recent developments in maritime law", David Meyer and Kate Belmont, June 25, 2014. http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/323026/Marine+Shipping/Recent+Developments+in+Maritime+Punitive+Damages.

Source: The Maritime Executive, "Punitive Damages Not Available in Jones Act", Marex, September 29, 2014

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