Punitive Damages May Be Available in Jones Act Cases

Under maritime law, injured seamen may have negligence and unseaworthiness claims, but they are also entitled to the right to payment for maintenance, cure and unearned wages.

Basically, maintenance and cure is an obligation imposed upon a shipowner to provide for a seaman who becomes ill or injured during his service to the ship. This obligation arises from the employment relationship and exists regardless of the seaman’s fault or any negligence or unseaworthiness of the vessel. A seaman is not only entitled to be reimbursed medical expenses actually incurred but also received the proper treatment and care. The shipowner is also liable to compensatory damages.

It is important to note that the jurisprudence has banned punitive damages for many years and only permitted recovery of attorney’s fees as long as the proper showing of egregious fault is made. Guevara v. Maritime Overseas Corp.

Thanks to a decision rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States on June, 2009, this jurisprudence was overruled and it was made clear that punitive damages are available in maintenance and cure claims if his employer/vessel owner has willfully failed to fulfill its maintenance and cure obligation. Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc., et al. v. Townsend. A Maritime Injury Lawyer would likely be familiar with this recent Supreme Court decision.

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