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Louisiana Supreme Court Holds Punitive Damages Are Available Under General Maritime Law

Warren v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

A boating accident occurred on navigable waters of Louisiana in May 2005 resulting in the death of a 22-year old passenger. As the boat was on plane, the hydraulic steering system manufactured by defendant, Teleflex, failed, causing the boat to turn violently, ejecting the decedent and four other passengers. Because the kill switch had not been engaged, the boat continued to spin around with its propeller striking decedent 19 times, resulting in his death.

Decedent’s parents filed suit under general maritime law and products liability for the wrongful death of their son, and sought punitive damages under general maritime law. Plaintiffs asserted claims against Teleflex for its failure to warn users of the inherent danger in the product- specifically, that a small amount of fluid loss would result in loss of steering thereby causing passengers to be ejected and potentially killed. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s verdict in favor of the Plaintiff and against Teleflex for failure to warn, awarding compensatory damages of $125,000 and $23 million in punitive damages.

The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed that punitive damages are available under general maritime law, however, the Court reduced the jury’s punitive damages award of $23 million to $4.25 million, stating that the punitive damages previously awarded were unconstitutionally excessive.

Warren v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Company, No. 2016-C-1647 (La. 10/18/17), ___ So.3d ___ (2017).

2017 WL 4737109