So this dude Batterton worked on a boat owned by Dutra Group. The boat was missing a piece of equipment that the boat was supposed to have as a matter of law, because Dutra were soem cheap ass motherfuckers. As a result, there was an accident that destroyed Batterton’s hand.
Needless to say, Batterton was pissed! That was probably his masturbating hand. So he sued the fuck out of Dutra, seeking punitive damages.
Side note: Punitive damages are damages over and above financial damages like medical bills, and future earnings lost. It’s literally meant to PUNish (the same root as PUNitive) the person. Imagine for instance, the financial damages are small, like a thousand bucks, and it’s a huge company doing it. They might keep doing a bad thing, content to pay the $1,000 each time they’re sued, because it’s cheaper than not doing that bad thing.
So punitive damages are meant to hit them in the nutsack, and make sure that they’re fully deincentivized from doing a bad thing. But that being said, it’s mean to be used against parties who knew they were doing the wrong thing, and did it anyway. You don’t typically want to punish someone for something they didn’t do on purpose.
Dutra Group went to the ninth circuit, and asked them to reject Batterton’s claim, because under the Jones Act, punitive damages aren’t available in such an incident. They cited an old SCOTUS case, Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990) as justification, because in that case, punitive damages weren’t available.
The ninth circuit politely told Dutra to go fuck themselves. They were all like, “Look at Batterton’s hand, motherfuckers? It’s wrecked! You’re gonna pay!”
So Dutra, thinking the ninth circuit was on crack, asked SCOTUS to step in.
SCOTUS conservatives, coupled with Kagan, decided to help Dutra out. Batterton referred to another previous SCOTUS case, Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 U.S. 404 (2009), where punitive damages were awarded, and felt like there was good precedent for recovering them.
But, in the Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990) they were not awarded, and apparently the six justices felt like getting reimbursed for medical bills, and lost future earnings was enough. No need to punish Dutra beyond that.
6:3 Judgement for Dutra. Get your fucked up gnarly hand outta here.
Read about the case or hear oral arguments here.