In a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Atl. Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 129 S. Ct. 2561 (2009), an issue came up as to whether an injured seaman was eligible to recover punitive damages for his employer’s deliberate refusal to pay maintenance and cure on his Jones Act injury claim. To clarify, punitive damages are generally awarded to an injured person in an effort to punish the opposing party or defendant for outrageous behavior and to deter them from engaging in misconduct in the future.
Maintenance and cure are forms of compensation that are awarded under maritime law, generally after a claim is filed by an offshore lawyer. The basic idea behind this type of compensation is that a seaman’s injuries are to be cured at the expense of the ship owner. This may include paying for medical expenses, providing a living allowance or compensating the seaman for lost wages.
In the case before the Supreme Court, a seaman named Edgar Townsend had been a crewmember on a tugboat. While working on the ship he fell onto the steel deck of the tugboat and injured his arm and shoulder. His employer told him that he would not pay maintenance and cure (medical bills, living expenses, etc.) to compensate him for his injury. Townsend contacted an offshore lawyer and filed a Jones Act claim against his employer. Townsend’s employer hired his own offshore lawyer to file motions in court in an attempt to prevent Townsend from being compensated for his injury.
The Supreme Court of the United States found that Townsend’s employer had intentionally violated his duty to pay maintenance and cure under the general principles of maritime law. As punishment, the Court found that punitive damages should be awarded to the maritime employee. This case is a great illustration of why maritime workers should contact an offshore lawyer immediately if they become injured. An experienced offshore lawyer can successfully file and defend a claim on behalf of an offshore worker to ensure that their right to compensation is protected.