U.S. District Judge Dismisses Seaman’s Claim for Punitive Damages on Summary Judgment

In Snyder v. L&M BoTruc Rental, Inc.,  C.A. No. 12-0097, (E.D. La. 2013), plaintiff counsel sued his employer for punitive damages on two separate causes for action: a) maintenance and cure (M&C), and b) alleged gross negligence and unseaworthiness.

With respect to M&C, counsel claimed punitive damages prospectively, i.e., in the event the employer arbitrarily denied benefits in the future.  In support of its motion, the employer presented evidence that it regularly paid maintenance to Snyder and that it had only suspended payments only after plaintiff counsel refused to provide medical records after repeated requests. The court noted that plaintiff presented no evidence that employer failed to pay maintenance “owed to date.”  In dismissing the punitive damage claim relating to M&C, U.S. District Judge Nannette Olivette Brown rejected plaintiff’s argument that he should be allowed to maintain the prospective claim until the point he reaches maximum cure.

On the gross negligence and unseaworthiness count, Judge Brown ruled that a seaman is not allowed to recover punitive damages based on the longstanding Miles v. Apex Supreme Court ruling. She expressly ruled that the Supreme Court’s more recent Townsend (punitive damages allowed for M&C) did not alter the rule of Miles which rejected seamen’s claims for punitive damages for negligence or unseaworthiness.