Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer LLC

Maritime Update: U.S. Supreme Court Rules a Plaintiff May Not Recover Punitive Damages on a Claim of Unseaworthiness

Bill Schwartz - 

Today, June 24, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dutra Group v Batterton decision the overwhelming historical evidence suggests that punitive damages are not available for unseaworthiness claims. The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit in a 6-3 vote in an opinion by Justice Alito.

In sum, the Court noted:

“This case asks whether a mariner may recover punitive damages on a claim that he was injured as a result of the unseaworthy condition of the vessel. We have twice confronted similar questions in the past several decades, and our holdings in both cases were based on the particular claims involved. In Miles, which concerned a wrongful death claim under the general maritime law, we held that recovery was limited to pecuniary damages, which did not include loss of society. 498 U. S., at 23. And in Atlantic Sounding, after examining centuries of relevant case law, we held that punitive damages are not categorically barred as part of the award on the traditional maritime claim of maintenance and cure. 557 U. S., at 407. Here, because there is no historical basis for allowing punitive damages in unseaworthiness actions, and in order to promote uniformity with the way courts have applied parallel statutory causes of action, we hold that punitive damages remain unavailable in unseaworthiness actions.”

Click here to read the full decision.

If you have any questions regarding this maritime matter, please contact Bill Schwartz at (504) 569-2900 or



Connect with us