Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer LLC

Maritime Update: Punitive Damages Not Available for Unseaworthiness Claims


McBride et al v Estis Well Service

In September 2014, the en banc majority of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi) decided the case of McBride et al v Estis Well Service. In that decision, they concluded seaman plaintiffs cannot recover punitive damages under either the Jones Act or the general maritime law. The majority found this case was controlled by the Supreme Court’s decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., which held that the Jones Act limits a seaman’s recovery to pecuniary losses whether liability is predicated on the Jones Act or unseaworthiness of the vessel under general maritime law. The judges from the 5th Circuit who dissented were of the opinion seamen may recover punitive damages if the employer was found to have committed a willful and wanton breach of the general maritime law duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.

The case was appealed (writ of certiorari) to the U. S. Supreme Court and on May 18, 2015 the writs sought were denied in McBride v. Estis Well Service. As a result, the decision by the Fifth Circuit stands that punitive damages for wrongful death and personal injury are not available due to a breach of the warranty of seaworthiness.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Bill Schwartz at (504) 569-2900 or wschwartz@bhbmlaw.com.


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