Law is Clear on Jones Act Punitive Damages

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant’s towing company as a seaman on board a vessel.  For eighteen years while working for Defendant, Plaintiff encountered benzene containing chemicals and solvents, including gasoline, diesel, and crude oil. He was later diagnosed with aplastic anemia, which causes insufficient production of new blood cells.

Plaintiff alleged claims based on Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness under general maritime law.  In addition to maintenance and cure, he sought damages under the Jones Act and general maritime law, including punitive damages.  Defendant moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages under the Jones Act.

Defendant contended that punitive damages were precluded as a remedy for Plaintiff’s Jones Act claim, and the Court agreed.  Courts have uniformly interpreted the law to bar plaintiffs from recovering punitive damages under the Jones Act.  In the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), the Court found that maintenance and cure was a separate cause of action from Jones Act claims and therefore, the Jones Act limitations did not apply.  As a result, the Court held that punitive damages are recoverable for the general maritime law claim of maintenance and cure.

In the instant matter, the Court reasoned that the Townsend decision did not affect the limitation of damages under the Jones Act.  Rather, the Townsend decision limited itself to recovery of punitive damages in a general maritime action, not a Jones Act action.  The Court therefore found that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact and granted Defendant’s partial motion for summary judgment.

Scott v. Cenac Towing, LLC, 2012 WL 4372515 (E.D. La. 2012).

Beth Bernstein

Beth Bernstein

Beth Bernstein is an associate at Mouledoux, Bland, Legrand & Brackett. She specializes in all matters arising under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, the Defense Base Act and the War Hazards Compensation Act. Beth can be contacted at (504) 595-3000 or by e-mail at bbernstein@mblb.com.
Beth Bernstein