David C. Pellegrin
Published by The Pellegrin Firm August 2, 2020
On October 1, 2019, a U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee-Nashville Division, ruled on whether a Jones Act plaintiff may recover damages for the loss of his household services. The court had to determine if a Jones Act plaintiff can recover such damages based on personal injury rather than death. Per previous cases, the value of lost household services is recoverable under the Jones Act in death cases brought by a decedent’s estate and beneficiaries, but it is somewhat unclear whether such damages can be recovered in non-death injury cases by the injured party.
The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) is incorporated into the Jones Act, meaning that cases interpreting FELA are relevant to Jones Act cases. The defendant began by arguing that the plaintiff’s claim for damages for loss of his household services constituted a form of non-pecuniary damage not recoverable under the Jones Act. FELA and the Jones Act limit recovery to pecuniary losses. Losses like “loss of society” are viewed as non-pecuniary forms of damages and are not recoverable. The plaintiff’s household services typically included work around his house and yard and performing maintenance work on his own cars. Even if they are to be viewed as labors of love, they are still labor, making them more akin to an economic loss than a non-pecuniary loss.
The court found that neither the text of the Jones Act nor the caselaw interpreting it distinguish between the type of damages available in a death or injury case. The court found the defendant failed to provide any rationale for such a distinction. Such damages are also routinely recovered in FELA cases which, as stated before, are broadly analogizable to Jones Act cases. Damages related to an individual’s loss of household services are also recoverable under general maritime law. As the defendant failed to show a good reason based in the law that an injured, but living, plaintiff may not recover for the loss of his own household services, the court denied the defendant’s motion for partial summary judgement. The case is Schlueter v. Ingram Barge Co., 417 F. Supp. 3d 990 (M.D. Tenn. 2019).