Facts: Respondent Dana Clausen was seriously injured while working on a commercial fishing vessel owned and operated by petitioner Icicle Seafoods, Inc. Asserting that Icicle Seafoods wrongfully withheld maintenance and cure after he suffered his injuries, Clausen subsequently filed suit against Icicle Seafoods in the Superior Court for King County. The jury found Icicle Seafoods liable and awarded Clausen $435,100 in compensatory damages and $1.3 million in punitive damages. After Clausen filed a post-trial motion requesting attorney fees, the judge awarded Clausen an additional sum to reimburse him for his attorney fees. Icicle Seafoods appealed the award directly to the Supreme Court of Washington.
Question(s): Does general maritime law require that the jury rather than the judge determine the amount of attorney fees awarded?
Does general maritime law limit the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded to no more than the amount of compensatory damages awarded?
Conclusion: Justice Charles W. Johnson’s opinion for the Court affirmed the trial court, concluding that as an attorney fee recovery is not part of a plaintiff’s substantive claim for damages, it is to be calculated by the judge rather than the jury under general maritime law. The Court also held that, despite the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Exxon Shipping Company v. Baker, there is no general rule of maritime law that limits the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded to no more than the amount of compensatory damages awarded.
Docket No. 85200-6
Appellant: Icicle Seafoods, Inc.
(Counsel: Michael Alan Barcott, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and Megan Elizabeth Blomquist)
Respondent: Dana Clausen
(Counsel: Philip Albert Talmadge, James P. Jacobsen, and Lawrence N. Curtis)
Argument: Thursday, September 15th, 2011
[Source: TVW, http://tvw.org]
Audio: Washington Supreme Court
Decided: Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Prevailing Party: Dana Clausen (Respondent)
Court: Madsen2 Court (2011)
Note: We post only slip opinion(s) as published at the time of the decision. Please consult Washington Reports printed volumes for the opinion(s) in their final form. Each opinion should appear next to the Justice who authored it.