On June 9, a federal judge announced that they would permit sailors to seek punitive damages in an ongoing multidistrict litigation asbestos-related product liability case. Injured sailors would be permitted to seek these damages directly from ship owners. However, their estates would not be permitted to seek punitive damages as part of wrongful death claims.
The litigation that has brought this decision forward was filed by various ship owners on behalf of merchant marines and their survivors, who allege exposure to ship-born asbestos.
Under the Jones Act, only actual damages may be recovered. However, the judge in this case found that the notion of “seaworthiness” has a contractual component since it arises from a “master’s duty” to provide servants with a seaworthy ship – a requirement supported by common law.
The federal legislation does not limit how sailors may remedy ‘unseaworthiness’ claims; because remedies are not listed, there may be no limitations on the range of potential remedies permitted under federal common law.
The judge did conclude that due to a Supreme Court precedent, sailors who died and whose estates were parties to the litigation could not pursue punitive damages.
This multi-district litigation is the longest running mass tort in U.S. history and thousands of cases remain in litigation.
At The Eichholz Law Firm, we know how confusing maritime law can be. If you or someone you know has been injured in a boating accident or during maritime salvage operations, our maritime lawyers can help you fight for your rights.
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