Big Win for Vessel Owners in Supreme Court Decision
On June 24, the Supreme Court resolved a split between two judicial circuits by ruling in The Dutra Group v. Batterton that punitive damages are not available in Jones Act cases involving claims of unseaworthiness. The decision, which had been closely watched by the maritime industry, marine insurers and maritime attorneys, was a major win for vessel owners and operators. Several maritime attorneys spoke with The Waterways Journal about the impacts of the Dutra decision.
Attorney John Kimball, a partner at Blank Rome and an adjunct instructor in maritime law at New York University, said that while the Dutra decision didn’t necessarily completely remove all possible claims for punitive damages in all maritime cases, its impact will be significant.
“In holding that seafarers may not recover punitive damages for personal injuries caused by unseaworthiness, the Supreme Court issued a decision which is a great relief to ship owners and operators,” Kimball said. “Although punitive damages were rarely awarded even before Dutra, there are thousands of pending asbestos cases against shipowners in which the threat of being held liable for punitive damages has now been removed.”
"Big Win for Vessel Owners in Supreme Court Decision," by David Murray was published in The Waterways Journal Weekly on June 27, 2019.