Author Topic: Punitive damages not available under general maritime law in personal-injury unseaworthiness action  (Read 806 times)

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Offline Elderberry

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SCOTUSblog by Joel Goldstein 6/24/2019

Opinion analysis: Punitive damages not available under general maritime law in personal-injury unseaworthiness action

In a decision implicating two of its recent admiralty precedents and its role in fashioning general maritime law more generally, the Supreme Court today held 6-3 that a seaman cannot recover punitive damages for injuries allegedly caused by the unseaworthiness of a vessel to which he was assigned.

Justice Samuel Alito rested his majority opinion largely on the absence of a “historical basis for allowing punitive damages in unseaworthiness actions” and “to promote uniformity with the way courts have applied parallel statutory causes of action.” That formulation allowed Alito to reconcile the two precedents, the 2009 decision in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend and the 1990 opinion in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp. In the process, Alito, who had written a forceful dissent in Atlantic Sounding, was joined in today’s opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, the author of the majority opinion in Atlantic Sounding, even though Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had joined Thomas then, argued in dissent that the logic of Thomas’ majority opinion dictated a contrary result.

The Supreme Court had held 5-4 in Atlantic Sounding that punitive damages are available to a seaman for an employer’s willful and wanton disregard of its obligation to pay maintenance and cure, a strict remedy essentially affording a very limited allowance for some living and medical expenses. Christopher Batterton argued in this case that Atlantic Sounding supports allowing recovery of exemplary damages for personal injuries due to a vessel owner’s willful and wanton failure to provide a vessel reasonably fit for its intended purpose, the test for the unseaworthiness action the general maritime law provides.


Offline jmyrlefuller

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Alito seems to be writing a lot of opinions this go-round.

And to think, we almost got stuck with Harriet Miers.
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