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Punitive damages in maritime injury cases

On Behalf of | Feb 7, 2023 | Pain and Suffering Damages

A maritime injury can leave you with many problems, both physical and mental. Your injury may require extensive medical treatment and potentially leave you with permanent physical limitations or restrictions.

You could also potentially suffer from various mental or psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. In addition to all this, you face significant financial losses, if you are unable to work and must pay for the costs of medical treatment.

Compensatory damages versus punitive damages

If your injury was caused by someone else’s negligence, you can recover damages. As with most personal injury cases, the two types of damages that you could be awarded are compensatory and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages are designed to compensate you for your provable losses, such as medical bills and lost wages. You must typically have evidence proving the amount of your loss to receive compensatory damages.

The intent of punitive damages is to punish the person or entity who was negligent and caused your injury. The purpose of awarding punitive damages is to discourage the negligent party from this type of action or behavior in the future.

While you may want to immediately pursue punitive damages because of how much you are suffering from your maritime injury, punitive damages are not always guaranteed.

Why punitive damages are harder to prove

Compensatory losses are generally easier to recover, since you have documented evidence of your losses, such as medical statements.

What makes recovering punitive damages so tough is that you usually cannot present documentation proving how much the negligent party should be paid as “punishment.”

What you must prove for punitive damages

Punitive damages are awarded when the court finds that the negligent party’s actions were so extreme and outrageous that it warrants a major penalty.

Awarding a high number of punitive damages is sometimes intended to send a message to others in the industry, or society as a whole, that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

Punitive damages in Washington state

Some states place a cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded, while others do not. The bad news is that Washington is one of only a few states that does not allow for punitive damages in personal injury cases.

However, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that punitive damages are available in maritime claims involving unseaworthiness.

What is unseaworthiness?

Unseaworthiness is a claim made against the owner of a sea vessel after you sustain an injury due to unsafe vessel conditions. The unsafe conditions can come from things such as broken or malfunctioning equipment, improper design or slip and fall hazards.

Even if punitive damages are not available to you due to the type of maritime claim you are bringing, you might still be able to bring a claim for pain and suffering, or for mental and emotional distress.

Working with a legal advocate who is on your side

As with punitive damages, pain and suffering are harder to prove than compensatory damages.

There are many complexities involved with a maritime injury claim. It is important to work an attorney experienced in maritime law as you pursue your claim.