Let’s  not be punitive. SCOTUS goes ‘wet’ on unseaworthiness.

 

American seamen have three avenues of recovery against a shipowner in respect of injuries sustained on board a ship: maintenance and cure; the Jones Act; a claim of unseaworthiness.

Punitive damages are available for the first of these, but not the second. The position as regards unseaworthiness was, until recently, unclear with a Circuit split on the issue. This has now been resolved by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dutra Group v Batterton ,588- U.S.. ____ (2019) , to the effect that punitive damages are not recoverable. The  overwhelming historical evidence was against such damages being available in an action for unseaworthiness. A  novel remedy could not be sanctioned unless it is re­quired to maintain uniformity with Congress’s clearly expressed poli­cies, particularly those in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act), under which only compensatory damages were recoverable.

To allow punitive damages on unseaworthiness claims would create bizarre disparities in the law. First, a mariner could make a claim for punitive damages if he was injured onboard a ship, but his estate would lose the right to seek punitivedamages in a wrongful death action if he died from his injuries. Second, because unseaworthi­ness claims run against the owner of the vessel, the owner could be liable for punitive damages while the ship’s master or operator—who could be more culpable—would not be liable for such damages under the Jones Act. Third, allowing punitive damages would place Amer­ican shippers at a significant competitive disadvantage and discour­age foreign-owned vessels from employing American seamen

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Professor Simon Baughen

Professor Simon Baughen was appointed as Professor of Shipping Law in September 2013 (previously Reader at the University of Bristol Law School). Simon Baughen studied law at Oxford and practised in maritime law for several years before joining academia. His research interests lie mainly in the field of shipping law, but also include the law of trusts and the environmental law implications of the activities of multinational corporations in the developing world. Simon's book on Shipping Law, has run to five editions and is already well-known to academics and students alike as by far the most learned and approachable work on the subject. Furthermore, he is now the author of the very well-established practitioner's work Summerskill on Laytime. He has an extensive list of publications to his name, including International Trade and the Protection of the Environment. He has also written and taught extensively on commercial law, trusts and environmental law. Simon will be a member of the Institute of International Shipping and Trade Law, a University Research Centre within the School of Law, and he will teach on both the LLM (Carriage of Goods by Sea, Land and Air and Oil and Gas Law) and LLB programmes at Swansea.

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