Maritime Law—Punitive Damages

The Dutra Group v. Batterton, No. 18-266

The maritime-law doctrine of unseaworthiness provides a cause of action to seamen injured due to their employer’s failure to provide a seaworthy vessel. This cause of action exists alongside the Jones Act, which provides a separate cause of action for seamen injured or killed as a result of their employers’ negligence. Courts have construed the Jones Act not to permit punitive damages. Respondent Christopher Batterton, a Jones Act seaman, brought a personal-injury action against his employer, asserting both unseaworthiness and Jones Act claims and seeking punitive damages on the unseaworthiness claim. The Ninth Circuit held that punitive damages are available for unseaworthiness claims, joining the Washington Supreme Court in a split of authority with the Fifth Circuit. Today, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review that determination and decide whether a Jones Act seaman can recover punitive damages on an unseaworthiness claim. Mayer Brown filed an amicus brief on behalf of a consortium of fishing trade associations supporting certiorari.