Circuits Split on Punitive Damages for Seamen

Ninth Circuit Disagrees with Fifth Circuit – Writs to Supreme Court Inevitable

Batterton v. Dutra Corp., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1627 (9th Cir. Jan 23, 2018)

The wait is over. The case was argued almost a year ago on February 8, 2017. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its unanimous opinion on January 23, 2018 in Batterton v. Dutra Corp., (2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1627 9th Cir. Jan 23, 2018], http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/01/23/15-56775.pdf, Kleinfeld, J.) Not surprisingly, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.. Previously, the U.S. Court of Appeals in a split en banc decision held that punitive damages were not recoverable by a seaman for personal injury or death for breach of the warranty of seaworthiness when the incident occurred in territorial waters. (McBride v. Estis Well Serv., L.L.C., 768 F.3d 382 [5th Cir. 2014], cert. denied 135 S. Ct. 2310, 191 L. Ed. 2d 978, 2015 U.S. LEXIS 3402 [2015]). The next step is to see if Dutra Corp. will ask for rehearing en banc.

Finding no persuasive reason to distinguish maintenance and cure actions from actions based on the breach of the warranty of seaworthiness with respect to damages awarded,  the court decided to interpret Townsend broadly rather than restrictively.

The official court hyperlink is:

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/01/23/15-56775.pdf

The decision is in Lexis as of this writing but not in WestLaw.

A more complete analysis and synopsis of the decision can be found here:

Ninth Circuit Diverges from Fifth on the Availability of Punitive Damages for Personal Injury of a Seaman in Unseaworthiness Claims – Creates Circuit Split