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Federal Court Orders Arctic Storm to Pay Maintenance to Fish Processors Injured in Fire

In an order dated May 22, 2015, a Seattle federal court judge issued a ruling requiring Arctic Storm, Inc. to pay back maintenance payments to two fish processors injured on May 20, 2013 when a fire broke out on board the C/P ARCTIC STORM and also held that the processors’ punitive damages claim against the company for delay in payment could go forward to trial.  In ruling in favor of the fish processors represented by our firm, the Court wrote:  “The Court finds at least some delays in maritime benefits payments that a trier of fact could conclude represented willful and wanton disregard for defendants’ rights, and thus defendants’ punitive damages claim should go forward.”

Another significant issue in the claim was Arctic Storm’s position that it didn’t have to pay maintenance to the injured fish processors until it was supplied with medical records documenting ongoing medical treatment for the injuries.  Rejecting this position taken by Arctic Storm, the Court further concluded:  “[Arctic Storm] has provided no authority holding that a shipowner may withhold benefits while it verifies that such a prognosis remains up-to-date.  Consequently, the Court rejects this notion. . .  The Court further finds that, in light of [Arctic Storm’s] conduct up to this point, and the fact that plaintiff has shown itself capable of paying defendants’ bills within two weeks . . . defendants are entitled to an order setting a regular payment schedule.”

The Court’s ruling is important because it forecloses the practice of requiring updated medical records documenting ongoing treatment in order to qualify for continuing maintenance payments.  As a practical matter, obtaining records can take significant time and substantially delay the payment of necessary maintenance to injured seamen.  Since maintenance payments are intended to provide subsistence payments to an injured seaman during recovery, delay in making these payments risks substantial hardship to the injured fish processor.  Holding that repeated delays in making maintenance payments could form the basis for a punitive damages claim, the Court wrote:  “This Court finds no persuasive authority holding that repeated delays of maritime benefits cannot support a punitive damages finding under this standard even where the amounts owed are eventually paid.”

We salute our hard-working clients for their efforts in contesting this important issue for all injured seamen and fish processors.