Punitive damages awarded for “reprehensible conduct”

On July 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded more than $1million to former Horizon Lines Captain John Loftus. Loftus was fired in 2013 for reporting to regulators what he believed to be safety violations on the ship he sailed as Master. Loftus was removed from his post three years ago, having worked for the Horizon Lines for 20 years.

In the landmark Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA) decision, John Loftus v. Horizon Lines, Inc. and Matson Alaska, Inc., Administrative Law Judge Jonathan C. Calianos found that Horizon retaliated against Loftus for engaging in protected activity, under the SPA, by reporting safety concerns. Loftus was awarded “$655,198.90 in back pay plus interest compounded on a daily basis, $10,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress.”

The ALJ also found that “Horizon’s conduct was reprehensible,” and awarded $225,000 in punitive damages to “deter others from engaging in similar conduct” which may cause “a chilling effect on the willingness of other seamen to report” safety violations. In awarded punitive damages, Judge Calianos stated ‘I find that Horizon’s persistent indifference to Loftus’ safety concerns was unreasonable. Over the course of several years, Loftus made repeated attempts to have Horizon address safety issues on board the Trader, but to no avail; as a result, he was forced to contact regulatory agencies as a last ditch effort to bring the ship into compliance with regulations.” On the finding of punitive damages, Judge Calianos further stated that Horizon’s actions at the time it terminated Loftus exhibited “extreme disregard for Loftus’ emotional well-being.”

Whistleblowers, who are the key to preventing illegal oil and waste pollution in our oceans, are also protected under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) or MARPOL Protocol. Those who are brave enough report violations of APPS can be compensated with up to 50% of the monetary penalties that the United States Government receives from the guilty parties.

Find out more here: Ocean Pollution Whistleblowers.