The Jones Act, like many pieces of legislation, has limitations and boundaries that are only clear in certain situations. The Maritime Executive recently reported on the case of McBride v. Estis Well Service LLC, a decision finally made last month that helps define when the Jones Act applies.

According to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that evaluated the case, the Jones Act cannot be used to support punitive damage claims because it only pertains to pecuniary (financial) losses.

The plaintiffs in this suit were seeking both kinds of compensation because of an accident where a truck onboard a barge based in the Bayou Sorrell in Louisiana fell over. Three crewmembers were injured and one other was killed, causing Haleigh McBride to file the lawsuit against the owner, Estis Well Service LLC. But the Court of Appeals affirmed the limits of the Jones Act in its ruling.

"We affirm the district court and conclude that this case is controlled by the Supreme Court's decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp.,1 which holds that the Jones Act limits a seaman's recovery to pecuniary losses where liability is predicated on the Jones Act or unseaworthiness," the court said. "Because punitive damages are non-pecuniary losses, punitive damages may not be recovered in this case."

The Executive notes that the court cited a 1990 decision, Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19, which established that the Jones Act only counted in cases of pecuniary loss, despite the protests of several dissenting judges.

Knowing this makes marine insurance all the more important for commercial operators, so they are able to address all losses, included those that are not safeguarded by the Jones Act or other similar legislation.

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