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Virginia Federal Court Rules on Availability of Damages in Maritime Personal Injury Cases

October 21, 2021 – Press Release

October 21, 2021 (Newport News, VA) – Hawkins Parnell & Young partner Brian J. Schneider obtained a favorable order on behalf of a supplier of gasket and packing products in a matter of first impression in both the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The federal court found that loss of consortium and punitive damages are unavailable to a former Navy Seaman and his wife in a maritime personal injury case.

After determining that claims of asbestos exposure by seamen aboard U.S. Navy vessels undergoing repairs fall within the scope of maritime law, the court analyzed the availability of damages under maritime law for injuries inflicted upon a Navy sailor by asbestos exposure. Due to the legislative and judicial history detailed in Brian’s brief, the federal court agreed that neither punitive damages nor loss of consortium were remedies available to an injured seaman during the formative years of maritime law from the 19th century. Given the absence of support for such awards from the age of sail – and emphasizing the current importance of judicial deference to legislative enactments described by the U.S. Supreme Court – the U.S. District Court examined whether federal statutes compelled recognition of the remedies sought by the claimants. The court found that because neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has ever recognized the availability of such damages to a seaman or his family, the claimant could not seek either punitive damages or loss of consortium.

The case is Mullinex v. John Crane Inc., No. 4:18-cv-00033 (E.D. Va. October 5, 2021).