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Washington Allows Jury Trial Demand By Employers in State Court Jones Act Cases

In Jones Act injury cases, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that an employer has the right to demand a trial by jury. Previous to the decision in Endicott v. Icicle Seafoods, most Washington State Superior Court Judges ruled that only the injured seaman had the right to demand or not demand a jury trial in State Court.

The Washington Supreme Court held that the Jones Act does not provide an injured seaman a substantive right to determine the mode (jury/nonjury) of trial. The act entitles the injured seaman to elect only the jurisdictional basis for the suit. Once the injured seaman has chosen a suit at law in Washington State Court, state procedural law determines whether the parties may demand a jury trial. The Washington State Constitution affords Jones Act litigations a jury trial right because the Jones Act is rooted in negligence and so fits within the jury trial right's 1889 purview that existed as of the time of the adopting of the State Constitution.

The Washington State Supreme Court's decision in Endicott v. Icicle, also held that seaman litigating cases in State Court were entitled to prejudgment interest on damage awards where the verdict is based on unseaworthiness even though the case is joined with a Jones Act negligence claim.

Each year hundreds of Jones Act injury cases are filed in Washington State and Federal Courts. In Federal Court, seamen will still have the sole ability to chose whether or not their cases are tried by a judge or jury. Stacey & Jacobsen routinely requests jury trials for their clients in Washington State Courts and the Supreme Court's holding in Endicott v. Icicle, will have little impact on claims involving serious injuries and deaths. In November, 2009, Stacey & Jacobsen tried Clausen v. Icicle Seafoods and a jury awarded $1.3 million dollars in punitive damages to an injured seaman based upon Icicle Seafoods willful and wanton failure to pay maintenance and cure benefits. Remarkably, Icicle has indicated they intend to challenge the jury verdict as being excessive.

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