Virginia: Punitive Damages are Not Allowed in a Section 905(b) Action

During his eleven-year tenure as a ship repair staff supervisor, Mr. Minton was exposed to asbestos.  Sixteen years after his employment ended, he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.  Minton filed a Section 905(b) claim and the jury awarded him $12,000,000 in compensatory damages, $430,963.70 in medical expenses, plus punitive damages in the amount of $12,500,000 (which was later reduced to $5,000,000).

One of the issues on appeal was whether Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) allows the award of punitive damages.  Although the Supreme Court of Virginia recognized that some courts have allowed punitive damages, it flatly rejected any interpretation of Section 905(b) in favor of punitive damages.  The plain language of the statute limited the remedies available for a negligence action to those included within the terms of the statute.  Because “punitive damages are not a remedy made available within the terms of the LHWCA, and the  language plainly restricts the damages to those remedies explicitly made available, they are extinguished as a category of recovery in LHWCA claims.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Minton, — S.E.2d —-, 2013 WL 119661 (Va. 2013).