Several rulings with significant impact have recently been made with regard to how maritime injury lawsuits are handled in court. One of these deals with the question of punitive damages, and when they may be awarded in maritime injury lawsuits.
Punitive damages are not always awarded in standard personal injury cases because they are not meant to compensate the victim; rather, they are designed to punish the defendant, hence “punitive.” It is appropriate in some cases but not in others, depending on the nature of the defendant’s behavior that led to the civil action in the first place. In most cases, punitive damages are levied against defendants that willfully and recklessly acted without regard for others i.e. speeding through a busy intersection.
A seaman who has sustained a work-related injury due to the negligence of the employer is entitled to sue for the usual economic and non-economic damages typical in standard personal injury cases, but it was only recently that the Supreme Court deemed that punitive damages may also be appropriate in some maritime injury cases, specifically claims for the willful nonpayment or inadequate provision of maintenance and cure benefits. Maritime employers are required by law to pay maintenance and cure benefits to employees who acquire work-related injury or illness regardless of fault. Failure to do so according to the law renders them liable for a maintenance and cure lawsuit, which may include punitive damages.
However, the issue is less clear cut for cases involving a claim of negligence or unseaworthiness. Different judges have interpreted the law in inconsistent ways therefore making conflicting decisions regarding punitive damages. No two cases are exactly the same, and this is definitely applicable when it comes to awarding punitive damages in maritime injury cases.
If you have incurred a serious work-related injury or illness, make sure that you consult with an experienced maritime lawyer. You will have a better chance of getting what is rightfully yours.