There is nothing more worrisome to a cruise line in a personal injury case than the potential of a punitive damages award. For years it was believed by the cruise lines that punitive damages were not awardable to passengers under maritime law. A Florida federal court recently clarified punitive damages are alive and well in maritime law and indeed awardable in passenger personal injury claims. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief history of punitive damages in the maritime law context and to show how the availability of punitive damages has been treated by the courts.
This Lollie v. Brown Marine Services case represents the first time a Florida Federal appellate court looked at the issue of whether non-pecuniary damages are awardable in maritime law. Non-pecuniary damages include loss of society, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, loss of love and affection, loss of comfort, grief and mental anguish. In this case the wife of an injured seaman brought a claim against her husband’s employer for the non-pecuniary damages of loss of consortium. The Eleventh Circuit held that neither the Federal Jones Act governing seaman injuries nor general maritime law authorizes recovery for loss of society or consortium in personal injury cases.