More ink has been spilled on McBride v. Estis than any other maritime case out of the Fifth Circuit in recent years. Less noticed, after the Fifth Circuit en banc found punitive damages were not available for wanton unseaworthiness as a matter of law, the case proceeded to trial.
According to the defendant, Mr. McBride did not have a material relationship with his son. He died almost instantaneously in the accident. As a Jones Act seaman, Mr. McBride's (via his estate) is only able to recover his pre-death pain and suffering. His dependent survivors, by class, can recover their pecuniary damages. Despite a seemingly thin history of support, Judge Hanna found Mr. McBride would have given his minor child in excess of $500,000 over his lifetime. Judge Hanna also found Mr. McBride would have provided his minor child with $180,000 in loss of nurture - that is, the pecuniary value of life skills provided, but expressly not the loss of emotional support or the pain caused to Mr. McBride's child from Mr. McBride's passing.
The survival award (pre-death pain and suffering) was $400,000, which is an extraordinary number if the defendants' allegations are to be believed. In Randall v. Chevron, back in 1994, the Fifth Circuit held that in a drowning case under extreme, and awful, circumstances, the highest allowable award was $20,000 per minute of pain and suffering. Mr. McBride seems to have exceeded that significantly.
The case is up on appeal with briefs expected toward the end of 2016. The case bears watching. If affirmed, it indicates the value of a Jones Act wrongful death claim, in certain courts, is much higher than most attorneys would have anticipated.