Watson v. Weeks Marine -
On May 27, 2016, Judge Barbier issued his order and reasons in Watson v. Weeks Marine. The claim is an ordinary Jones Act personal injury case but it has two significant aspects, both involving maintenance and cure.
Watson, a good, long-term employee of Weeks, was injured on September 24, 2014 on a Weeks vessel when, during heavy seas, a table hit him. He began treating in South Carolina, then continued treating home in Louisiana, complaining of substantial leg, knee, and foot pain, including numbness. Weeks sent him to an IME in November. The IME physician found there were no objective indicia of injury and declared Watson at MMI. When Watson didn't show up for work, he was fired. His maintenance and cure were terminated.
He began treating with another physician in Houston, who said he had severe back and leg issues requiring surgery. Watson attended a follow-up IME with Weeks's physician in June 2015, which echoed the first complaints. Watson continued treating, at his expense, with his physician in Houston. That physician recommended a cervical fusion and continued treatment for the knee.
Judge Barbier found Weeks's conduct merited punitive damages. Unlike recent cases in federal court - notably Jefferson v. Baywater, where the defendant's conduct was arguably worse and Judge Morgan found only $10,000 in punitive damages, Judge Barbier hit Weeks for $100,000 in punitive damages and $50,000 for attorneys' fees to prove entitlement to M&C.
Few punitive damages claims have been appealed. Of those that have - notably, Meche v. Key Energy - the Fifth Circuit has reversed. Punitive damages, it has held, are only appropriate for the worst offenses. It is likely Watson will be appealed on whether a defendant's reliance on an IME is grounds to terminate M&C.