Yesterday, May 18, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Jones Act seaman's application for a writ of certiorari in McBride v. Estis Well Service. As a result, the September 25, 2014, decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stands: Jones Act seamen cannot recover punitive damages from their vessel owner/employer’s for alleged willful and wanton breach of the general maritime law duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.
This decision is extremely significant to vessel/drilling rig operators in the marine, offshore, and energy industries because it limits vessel owners’/employers’ exposure where the unseaworthy condition allegedly results from vessel owners’ willful and wanton conduct. In addition, because punitive damages are typically excluded from insurance coverage, it helps to eliminate a significant litigation risk to the viability of marine and energy companies. In sum, the McBride decision is a significant blow to the plaintiffs’ bar who have been working aggressively to expand punitive damages as set forth in the Supreme Court’s decision in Townsend beyond a seaman’s employer’s exposure for willfully and arbitrarily denying maintenance and cure.
To view the order, visit page two of McBride v. Estis Well Service.