OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) – The Washington Supreme Court has reversed a trial court’s decision in the case of an American Seafoods worker who was injured on a company trawler and is now seeking punitive damages.
An opinion issued March 9 says plaintiff Allan Tabingo was “seriously injured while working aboard a fishing trawler owned and operated by American Seafoods Co. LLC and American Triumph LLC (collectively American Seafoods).”
He said the injury was the result of a faulty level on a hatch in the deck. Tabingo alleged he had been working as a deckhand on the vessel and was pushing fish below the deck when another deckhand had begun to close the hatch.
The second deckhand allegedly attempted to stop the hatch from closing but because it was broken, he could not. As a result of the hatch closing on Tabingo’s hand, two fingers were amputated.
Tabingo claims the company knew about the broken hatch for two years before the incident. He sued the company for negligence under the Jones Act, as well as maritime claims.
The company filed for partial summary, which a King County Superior Court granted. As a result, Tabingo filed an interlocutory petition for review.
The question was whether he could file for punitive damages under a general maritime unseaworthiness claim.
"Allowing for punitive damages here is consistent with this policy of protecting seamen," the court wrote.
"The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate a harmed party, but to serve as punishment and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct in the future."