A Jones Act Seaman Is Not Entitled To A Jury Trial On A Maintenance And Cure Claim That Is Not Joined With A Negligence Or Unseaworthiness Claim
In Ronald Forrest v. Omega Protein, Inc., 2011 AMC 2725 (E.D. Va. 2011), the court granted the defendant's motion to strike plaintiff's demand for a jury trial on his maintenance and cure claim which included a claim for punitive damages for a willful and wanton failure to pay maintenance and cure. The plaintiff, a Jones Act seaman, originally joined his maintenance and cure claim with negligence and unseaworthiness claims but later severed and non-suited the maintenance and cure claims after he was denied the opportunity to amend his pleading to seek punitive damages. Thereafter, the negligence and unseaworthiness claims were tried to a jury. The seaman relied on Fitzgerald v. United States Lines Co., 374 U.S. 16, 1963 AMC 1093 (1963), which recognized that seamen have a statutory right to jury trial in Jones Act cases. See 46 USC §30104 (2006)
The Forrest court distinguished Fitzgerald. In Fitzgerald, the Court held that permitting a seaman to have his maintenance and cure claim tried to a jury when it was joined with a Jones Act negligence claim arising out of one set of facts would promote judicial economy and avoid implicating the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Because the only basis for the Forrest court's subject matter jurisdiction over the seaman's maintenance and cure claim was admiralty jurisdiction which does not provide for jury trials, the court held that there was no constitutional or statutory basis to permit a jury trial on those claims. Further the Forrest court observed that there were no considerations of judicial economy that would mitigate in favor of granting a jury trial. See also Mahramas v. Am. Exp. Isbrandtsen Lines, Inc., 475 F.2d 165, 173 AMC 587 (2d Cir. 1973). The Forrest court went on to reject the seaman's request that his claim be tried to an advisory jury. The court stated that an advisory jury would not help the court's task and would result in an inefficient use of judicial resources.
There is no right to a jury trial for maintenance and cure claims that are not joined with a Jones Act negligence and/or unseaworthiness claim.