Skip to main content

Virginia Court Rules No Punitive Damages Available Under LHWCA

In Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Minton, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed and remanded a decision of a jury on January 10, 2013, holding that the award of $12.5 million in punitive damages was inappropriately granted because punitive damages are a remedy prohibited by the terms of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("LHWCA").

Rubert Minton suffered injuries as a result of developing mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos while working on Exxon Mobile Corporation ("Exxon") ships during his employment at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (Shipyard). Minton filed suit against Exxon under the federal LHWCA for failure to warn Minton of, and protect him from, the dangers associated with asbestos. The jury found in favor of Minton and awarded him compensatory damages, medical expenses, and punitive damages. Exxon appealed. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court.First, the Supreme Court upheld the jury in finding that the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that both the active control duty and the duty to intervene under the LHWCA had been breached by Exxon. Second, the Supreme Court disagreed with Exxon in arguing that Minton did not prove causation, as the Court found that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonably jury to find that Exxon's actions were a substantial contributing factor in causing Minton's injury.

Amongst other attacks on the trial court's rulings, Exxon finally argued that the ruling on punitive damages was error, as 33 U.S.C. section 905(b) states that suing a vessel owner for negligence is "exclusive of all other remedies against the vessel owner." The Court noted that other courts have held that punitive damages are indeed available under the LHWCA. However, the Court rejected these findings by reading the plain language of the statute which states: "The remedy provided in this subsection shall be exclusive of all other remedies against the vessel except remedies available under this chapter." The Court found that because the statute does not specifically provide that punitive damages are available under the statute, the Court cannot read the general maritime law into the statute which provides for punitive damages into the statute.

A copy of this decision can be found here => If you have any questions regarding this decision or wish to reach me, you may do so by writing to me at


Popular posts from this blog

Maritime Law--U.S. Crewmember Required to Arbitrate Claims Applying Norwegian Law

In Alberts v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., No. 15-14775 (11th Cir. Aug. 23, 2016), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that a U.S. citizen, working aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship is required to arbitrate his claims against Royal Caribbean.
Plaintiff, a United States citizen, worked as the lead trumpeter on a passenger Royal Caribbean cruise ship. The ship is a Bahamian flagged vessel with a home port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Royal Caribbean, the operator of the vessel, is a Liberian corporation with its principal place of business in Florida. After plaintiff became ill while working for Royal Caribbean, he filed suit alleging unseaworthiness, negligence, negligence under the Jones Act, maintenance and cure, and seaman’s wages and penalties. Royal Caribbean moved to compel arbitration, and the district court granted the motion. This appeal presented an issue of first impression: Whether a seaman’s work in international waters on a cruise ship that calls o…

Maritime Law--Tour Boat Captain Implicated in Tragedy Off Nicaragua

As reported in the Daily Business Review on January 25, 2016, Nicaragua's police, army and navy will investigate the captain of a tourist boat and his assistant for the deaths of 13 Costa Rican passengers killed on January 23rd when the vessel capsized in bad weather. The Reina del Caribe, Spanish for "Caribbean Queen," was carrying 33 people when it went down Saturday amid rain and strong winds as it ferried between the Corn Islands, a popular tourist destination, off Nicaragua's Caribbean coast. The Daily Business Review article can be accessed here=> Daily Business Review article.

The government clarified on the 24th that the boat was carrying 25 Costa Ricans, two Americans, two British citizens, a Brazilian and three Nicaraguans. Previous reports had said there were 32 people on board, including four Americans. All the dead were Costa Ricans.

Nicaragua's naval commander for the southern Caribbean region said the boat's captain was detained because the …

Maritime Law--Lawsuits Filed Over RCCL's "Storm Cruise"

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd ("RCCL") faces lawsuits by passengers accusing the company of negligently endangering their lives by letting Anthem of the Seas sail into a February 7, 2016 storm.  One class action lawsuit filed in federal court in Miami specifically states that RCCL should be required to pay punitive damages to passengers on its ship for "knowingly sailing directly into" a strong winter storm with 120-mph winds. It is also alleged that people aboard the ship were "subjected to hours of sheer terror as the gigantic cruise ship was battered by hurricane-force winds and more than 30-foot waves."

The vessel reportedly encountered 100 mph winds and 30-foot waves, and RCCL said the storm was more severe than expected. RCCL later turned the ship around, and it returned to New Jersey on February 10. Anthem of the Seas’ port azipod reportedly burnt through “all four clutches” during the storm. RCCL reported four minor injuries among more than 6,000 p…