Another U.S. District Court Holds Punitive Damages Available under Longshore Act 905(b) Claim

Judge Lance M. Africk has joined his colleagues of the Eastern District of Louisiana in holding that punitive damages are available to longshoremen and other marine workers under a Longshore Act §905(b) negligence cause of action against third party vessel owners. The circumstances of this recent ruling are as follows.

In re Aries Marine Corp. – Ruling

RAM XVII was a 195-ton lift boat owned by Aries Marine Corp. On November 18, 2018, she sank 12 nautical miles from the coast of Louisiana. Aries filed a complaint for limitation of liability. Seven claimants filed answers and claims. Aries filed a Motion for Summary Judgment asserting that it was entitled to exoneration as a matter of law or limitation in the alternative. Judge Africk denied summary judgment on those issues due to substantial disputed facts.

Aries also sought summary judgment on Claimants’ punitive damages, arguing that they were not available. All parties agreed that the claimants’ rights arose under 33 U.S.C. §905(b), which “provides longshoremen and other maritime workers with a negligence cause of action against vessel owners.” Judge Africk denied the Motion for Summary Judgment on punitive damages, citing the most recent opinions of other judges of the Eastern District. These rulings have held that punitive damages are available under §905(b). (See Bommarito v. Belle Chasse Marine Transp., No. 21-204, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103830, 2022 WL 2149445, at *8 (E.D. La. June 10, 2022) (Fallon, J.); In re Rodi Marine LLC, No. 17-5394, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28382, 2019 WL 861251, at *3 (E.D. La. Feb 22, 2019)(Morgan, J.)).

punitive damages still an open question for the Fifth Circuit

As noted in Rodi Marine, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has not determined whether punitive damages are awardable in an action brought by a longshoreman or covered offshore worker under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. The Fifth Circuit has left this question open and is collecting opinions holding that punitive damages may be recovered under §905(b). This decision marks the latest in this jurisprudential trend out of the Eastern District.

In re Aries Marine Corp., CIVIL ACTION No. 19-10850; 19-13138; 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9838 * (E.D. La., Jan. 20, 2023, Africk, J.)