Articles Posted in Admiralty & Maritime Law

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Allan Tabingo was seriously injured while working aboard a fishing trawler owned and operated by American Seafoods Company LLC and American Triumph LLC (collectively American Seafoods). Tabingo alleged the lever used to operate a hatch on the trawler's deck broke when an operator tried to stop the hatch from closing. The hatch closed on Tabingo' s hand, leading to the amputation of two fingers. He brought numerous claims against American Seafoods, including a general maritime unseaworthiness claim for which he requested punitive damages. American Seafoods argued that as a matter of law, punitive damages were unavailable for unseaworthiness claims. The issue of whether punitive damages were available for a claim of unseaworthiness was a question of first impression for both the United States and Washington State Supreme Courts. The United States Supreme Court recently held that punitive damages were available for maintenance and cure, another general maritime claim. The Court held that because both the claim and the damages were historically available at common law and because Congress had shown no intent to limit recovery of punitive damages, those damages were available. Here, the Washington Court followed the United States Supreme Court's rationale and found that, like maintenance and cure, punitive damages were available for a general maritime unseaworthiness claim. The Washington Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Tabingo v. Am. Triumph LLC" on Justia Law

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Scott Walter Maziar sustained injuries while on board a ferry operated by the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC). Maziar used the ferry to get to and from work. Since Maziar was injured at sea, he brought a general maritime negligence claim against the DOC. He initially requested a jury trial, but he moved to strike his demand because he thought that no jury trial right existed for general maritime negligence cases. The DOC objected, but the trial court agreed with Maziar, struck his jury request, and awarded him damages after a bench trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on the jury trial issue but on different grounds, holding that although a jury trial right generally applied to general maritime negligence actions in state court. The State did not have a constitutional or statutory jury trial right in tort actions. The issue this case presented on appeal was whether the State had a jury trial right in tort actions. The Court held that it does: several statutes read together demonstrate that the legislature meant to treat the State as if it were a private party with regard to matters of civil procedure and confer on any party (including the State) the right to have a jury determine most matters of fact. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for a jury trial. View "Maziar v. Dep't of Corr." on Justia Law

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This issue on appeal in this case involved a maritime claim for maintenance and cure and whether, under federal maritime law, a judge, instead of a jury, awards attorney fees following the jury award of compensatory and punitive damages in favor of an injured seaman against the employer for willful failure to pay maintenance and cure. Respondent Dana Clausen worked on board Appellant Icicle Seafoods' Bering Star as second engineer when he sustained injuries. Respondent encountered persistent difficulties in getting Icicle and its adjuster Spartan, to meet its obligation to pay him maintenance and cure during his recovery. Icicle paid Respondent $20 per day to cover lodging, utilities, and meals. Respondent resorted to living in a recreational vehicle with a leaking roof and with no heat, air conditioning, running water, or toilet facilities. Additionally, Icicle delayed or refused to pay for treatment that Respondent's doctors recommended. In a report to Icicle, Spartan confirmed that Respondent's injuries were likely career-ending. Icicle filed suit in federal court against Respondent to terminate Respondent's right to maintenance and cure. Respondent filed the present action and Icicle's suit in federal court was dismissed. Respondent sought damages for Icicle's negligence under the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. 30104), unseaworthiness of the Bering Star, and wrongful withholding of maintenance and cure. The jury found Icicle negligent under the Jones Act, and that Icicle was callous or willful and wanton in its failure to pay maintenance and cure. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that under federal maritime law, the trial court calculates an attorney fee award related to a maintenance and cure action, and the punitive damages award as determined by the jury here, based on the callous or willful and wanton withholding of maintenance and cure, was proper. View "Clausen v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc." on Justia Law