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Media Alerts - McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C. - Fifth Circuit
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September 26, 2014
  McBride v. Estis Well Service, L.L.C. - Fifth Circuit
Headline: Fifth Circuit Rules That Punitive Damages Are Not Available to Seamen or Their Survivors Under General Maritime Law or the Jones Act.

Area of Law: Maritime Law; Jones Act.

Issue Presented: Whether punitive damages are available under the Jones Act or general maritime law to injured seamen or their survivors.

Brief Summary: These consolidated cases arose out of an accident aboard Estis Rig 23, a barge supporting a truck-mounted drilling rig operating in Bayou Sorrell, Louisiana. The truck toppled over, and one crewmember was killed and three others were injured. At the time of the incident, Estis Well Service, L.L.C. (Estis) owned and operated Rig 23 and employed the Plaintiff crewmembers. The Plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana against Estis, stating causes of action for unseaworthiness under general maritime law and negligence under the Jones Act and seeking compensatory as well as punitive damages. Estis moved to dismiss the claims for punitive damages, arguing that punitive damages are not available as a matter of law where liability is based on unseaworthiness or Jones Act negligence. The District Court granted the motion, entered judgment dismissing all claims for punitive damages, and granted Plaintiffs' motion to certify the judgment for immediate appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit panel concluded that punitive damages were available. The Fifth Circuit then granted rehearing en banc and concluded that the Supreme Court's decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., which holds that the Jones Act limits a seaman's recovery to pecuniary losses where liability is predicated on the Jones Act or unseaworthiness, is controlling. Because punitive damages are non-pecuniary losses, punitive damages may not be recovered in this case.

Extended Summary: These consolidated cases arose out of an accident aboard Estis Rig 23, a barge supporting a truck-mounted drilling rig operating in Bayou Sorrell, a navigable waterway in Louisiana. The truck toppled over, and one crewmember was fatally pinned between the derrick and mud tank, and three others suffered injuries. At the time of the incident, Estis Well Service, L.L.C. (Estis) owned and operated Rig 23 and employed the Plaintiff crewmembers.

The Plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana against Estis, stating causes of action for unseaworthiness under general maritime law and negligence under the Jones Act and seeking compensatory as well as punitive damages under both claims. Estis moved to dismiss the claims for punitive damages, arguing that punitive damages are not available as a matter of law where liability is based on unseaworthiness or Jones Act negligence. The District Court granted the motion, entered judgment dismissing all claims for punitive damages, and granted Plaintiffs' motion to certify the judgment for immediate appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The Fifth Circuit panel concluded that the Supreme Court's recent opinion in Atlantic Sounding Co., Inc. v. Townsend (2009) controlled this case and that the remedy of punitive damages are available to injured seamen and the survivors of deceased seamen. The Fifth Circuit granted rehearing en banc and, on rehearing, affirmed the District Court. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the Supreme Court's decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp. (1990), which holds that the Jones Act limits a seaman's recovery to pecuniary losses where liability is predicated on the Jones Act or unseaworthiness, is controlling. The Supreme Court, in Townsend, did not overrule Miles. Rather, it took pains to distinguish maintenance and cure cases from unseaworthiness under general maritime law and negligence under the Jones Act, and it confirmed that the reasoning of Miles remains sound. Because punitive damages are non-pecuniary losses, punitive damages may not be recovered in this case.

For the full opinion, please see:
http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/op...ub/12/12-30714-CV2.pdf.

Panel: En Banc

Argument Date: 5/14/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 9/25/2014

Docket Number: No. 12-30714

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Kirsty Davis

Counsel: Brian Colomb, Domengeaux, Wright, Roy & Edwards, for Plaintiff-Appellant McBride; Elwood Stevens, Domengeaux, Wright, Roy & Edwards, for Plaintiff-Appellant Suire; Nicholas Blanda, Anderson & Dozier, for Plaintiff-Appellant Touchet; Alan Breaud, Breaud & Meyers, A.P.L.C., for Defendant-Appellee Estis Well Service, L.L.C.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Davis (Concurrence by Circuit Judge Clement, Concurrence by Circuit Judge Haynes, Dissent by Circuit Judge Higginson, Dissent by Circuit Judge Graves)

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl

    Posted By: Aaron Bruhl @ 09/26/2014 09:03 PM     5th Circuit  

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