In Landmark Decision, Supreme Court of Washington Holds that Jones Act Seamen Can Recover Punitive Damages for Vessel Unseaworthiness

On March 9, 2017, the Supreme Court of Washington held that a Jones Act seaman could recover punitive damages in an unseaworthiness claim. At least within the state of Washington, this ruling clarified previous confusion regarding applicability of common law damages for unseaworthiness claims. The case involved a plaintiff who lost two of his fingers while moving fish below deck. A hatch with a broken handle could not be closed in time and severed the plaintiff's fingers. The plaintiff alleged that the vessel operators knew about the broken handle but failed to repair it.

Seaworthiness refers to the fit condition or preparedness of a vessel, which is necessary for maritime purposes; in other terms, a seaworthy vessel is one that is reasonably safe to use and perform her assigned tasks. The seaworthiness of each vessel depends on different factors such as the purpose of the vessel, technical advances and the circumstances of transport. A vessel is required to be in operable, rather than perfect, condition. Obvious indications of unseaworthiness that apply in any context include a deteriorated hull, inoperable equipment, and missing equipment.

While a vessel owner only has a duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to its passengers, the owner owes an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel with respect to its employees and crewmen. Therefore, if the vessel's hull and equipment are deteriorated or there are other apparent-as well as non-apparent-conditions that should not have been overlooked by the vessel operators, there could be grounds for a finding of unseaworthiness and punitive damages.

The Supreme Court of Washington declined to follow federal appellate decisions that reached a contrary result. Currently, there is no ruling from the United States Supreme Court on the issue of punitive damages for Jones Act Seamen claiming unseaworthiness. The Supreme Court of Washington's decision may help encourage the United States Supreme Court to take up the issue.

If you have been seriously injured or your loved one has been killed while working offshore, it is important to find an attorney with experience handling complex maritime injury cases. Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz is the oldest personal injury firm in Texas, and our attorneys have successfully handled numerous maritime injury claims. Contact us today by calling 713-222-7211 or toll free at 1-800-870-9584.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

Awards & Recognition

  • 2016-2017 Equal Access to Justice Champion

    The Equal Access to Justice Champions Program was started by the Houston Bar Association in 2006, to help ensure placement of Houston Volunteer Lawyers cases with pro bono volunteers. Originally, firms were tiered according to size, and firms within each tier committed to accept a certain number of pro bono cases from HVL each year for five years.

  • The National Trial Lawyers | Top 100 Trial Lawyers

    The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an invitation-only organization composed of the premier trial lawyers from each state or region who meet stringent qualifications as civil plaintiff and/or criminal defense trial lawyers. Selection is based on a thorough multi-phase objective and uniformly applied process which includes peer nominations combined with third-party research.

  • Million Dollar Advocates Forum

    Established in 1993, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum (which includes the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum) is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. There are over 4000 members throughout the country. Fewer than 1% of U.S. lawyers are members.

  • Recognized by Best Lawyers America | Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz | 2017

    Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Their methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

  • Lead Counsel Rated

    In order to earn the Lead Counsel Rating, an attorney must not only demonstrate significant legal experience, but must also receive multiple peer recommendations advocating his or her ability. This is a key component in the screening process.

  • Texas Super Lawyers | Texas Monthly

    Each year, Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in Texas via a patented multiphase selection process involving peer nomination, independent research and peer evaluation. The Texas lawyers who receive the highest point totals during this selection process are further recognized in Texas Super Lawyers Top Lists.

Get Your Free Case Review 713.587.9668

Let Us Help You Today! Request a Free Consultation

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented nearly 100 victims who suffered personal injuries and damages to property from a large fire and explosion resulting in a settlement of more than $50 million. The firm served as lead lawyers on the steering committee in this litigation.

  • $80 Million Personal Injury Large Plant Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 270 plaintiffs', taking a lead role in the plaintiffs' steering committee, who suffered injuries in a large plant explosion resulting in a settlement of nearly $80 million.

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Plant Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 45 personal injury victims in a plant fire and explosion, serving on the plaintiffs' steering committee, concluding with a settlement of more than $50 million.

  • $22+ Million Personal Injury Work Site Accident

    The firm prevailed in a personal injury trial for a worksite injury client with the jury returning a verdict and resulting in a judgment of over $22 million for the firm's client.

  • $12 Million Auto Accident 18-Wheeler Collision

    The firm successfully achieved a $12 million settlement for the family of a man who died in an 18 wheeler collision.

  • $30 Million Personal Injury Burn Victims

    The firm prevailed on behalf of three burn victims with settlements totaling nearly $30 million.

Our Record Of Success.

When you are hurt and you choose a law firm to represent you in court or at the negotiation table, you need to carefully consider the firm's record.

More Success Stories