The Jones Act serves many purposes for seamen who need protection while working an essential job in the United States, among which is compensation for on-the-job injuries. Now, a new case will analyze if those maritime workers have access to compensation beyond the cost of said injuries if an unstable work vessel caused their suffering.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Batterton v. Dutra Group, which raises the question whether punitive damages are available to seamen covered by the Jones Act for a claim in which a vessel’s “unseaworthiness” is the cause of an injury.
Christopher Batterton was a deckhand on a Dutra Group vessel when a hatch cover blew open and crushed his left hand. He sued because he claimed the compartment below the cover lacked a necessary mechanism, and that the vessel was not seaworthy.
The case’s impact
The Jones Act typically covers cases in which the negligence of an employer, crew member or vessel owner is a contributing factor to the injury. The central question is whether workers can seek damages beyond simple injury compensation under the Jones Act.
If the Supreme Court sides with Batterton, marine companies could be more exposed to legal issues and insurance requirements. But it could also give employers a greater incentive to create more protections in the workplace for seamen and lead to safety improvements that help reduce injuries.
The Supreme Court will have a lot of evidence to work through, as the case received two differing verdicts in the Fifth and Ninth federal circuits. It will be interesting to see how the highest court in the land decides to rule.