Dana Clausen v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc

[B]Date Decided[/B]: Mar 15[SUP]th[/SUP], 2012
[B]Decided By[/B]: Washington Supreme Court (State)
[B]Court[/B]: The Supreme Court of the State of Washington
Plaintiff Dana Clausen (“Clausen”) was employed by defendantIcicle Seafoods (“Icicle”) as a second engineer aboard Icicles’ vessel, THEBERING STAR (“the Vessel”). In February 2006, Clausen sustained seriousinjuries to his back, neck and hand while attempting to lift a 122-pound piece ofsteel. Clausen sought initial medical treatment in Alaska and later returned tohis home in Louisiana for further care.
Following his injury, Icicle provided Clausen with maintenanceand cure payments of $20 per day for lodging, utilities and meals. This meagerpayment forced Clausen to live in a vehicle without heating, air conditioning,running water or a toilet. Clausen experienced significant difficultiessecuring the maintenance and cure payment, and Icicle delayed or refused to payfor the medical treatment recommended by Clausen’s doctors.
Later in 2006, Clausen’s treating physician told Icicle thatClausen should receive epidural spinal injections and undergo back surgery. Icicledetermined that Clausen’s injuries were likely career-ending and circulated aninternal memo recommending that a representative meet with Clausen to reach acompensation settlement before Clausen secured legal representation; Clausenwas never told of Icicles’ discussions regarding his condition.
In 2007, Icicle filed suit in federal court to terminateClausen’s right to maintenance and cure alleging he prevented them from investigatinghis claim. Clausen hired counsel who subpoenaed Icicles’ records and discoveredthat Icicle had extensively monitored Clausen’s condition. Clausen then filedsuit in a Washington state court alleging negligence under the Jones Act, [I]46, U.S.C. § 30104[/I], and unseaworthinessof the Vessel and wrongful withholding of maintenance and cure under thegeneral maritime law. Icicles’ federal action was dismissed, and a state court juryawarded Clausen $435,100 in damages for negligence, $37,420 in compensation forwithholding of maintenance and cure, and $1.3 million in punitive damages forIcicles’ willful and wanton failure to pay maintenance and cure.
Following the verdict, Clausen filed a motion requestingattorney fees. Icicle opposed the request and moved for judgment as a matter oflaw arguing that under federal maritime law only a jury could award attorneyfees. The trial judge denied Icicles motion holding that under federal maritimelaw the issue of attorney fees was for the court, not the jury. However, becausethe judge determined that under federal maritime law Clausen’s attorneys wereonly entitled to costs and fees for time spent on the maintenance and cureclaim, the judge reduced the award by 10%; awarding $387,558 in fees and$40,548 in costs. The trial judge also denied a motion by Icicle to reduce the amountof the punitive damages award.
Icicle appealed.
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