January 23, 2018

Ninth Circuit creates circuit split on availability of punitive damages in unseaworthiness cases (Batterton v. Dutra Group)

The Ninth Circuit issued a published opinion today that expressly disagrees with a decision of the Fifth Circuit.

The issue is whether punitive damages are available in unseaworthiness cases under general maritime law.   The Ninth Circuit answered this question in the affirmative in 1987, in a case called Evich v. Morris.  But the Fifth Circuit ruled a few years ago that a subsequent Supreme Court case impliedly overruled Evich.

Not so, says the Ninth Circuit:

The Fifth Circuit’s leading opinions . . . are scholarly and carefully reasoned, but so are the dissenting opinions, which to us are more persuasive.
This case has the makings of a good cert. petition, with an express circuit split on an issue of federal common law.  Stay tuned to see whether the Ninth Circuit agrees to take this one en banc.