On February 23, 2005, Robert Mulligan sustained injuries while fighting a fire aboard the M/V Integrity. At trial, Mulligan testified that he injured both of his shoulders in the course of fighting the fire and that he informed Captain Grueland of his injuries. Grueland, however, only noted an injury to Mulligan's right shoulder. Mulligan pointed out the inaccuracy in the report but Grueland refused to amend the report and told Mulligan to report his symptoms to the Emergency Room Staff, which he did.
After a lengthy period of rehab with numerous visits with his physician an MRI was ordered on his left shoulder which the defendants prior to approval requested Mulligan undergo an independent medical examination by its own doctor. Mulligan agreed to the independent examination. Correspondence between the two sides ceased and the current litigation began at which point Mulligan filed an emergency motion for the defendant to pay his maintenance and cure.
An MRI was eventually done on Mulligan revealing a tear in his left rotator cuff. Another independent medical examination was requested and the ultimate findings of this examination were that Mulligan most likely did injure his left shoulder as a result of his actions fighting the fire on defendants vessel. At this point, Mulligan's doctor believed invasive procedures were required to repair his shoulder. The defendants delayed the procedure until after the deposition of two witnesses to determine the validity of Mulligan's claims. After the deposition, the shoulder surgery was scheduled.
Did the Defendant's delay in providing payment for the plaintiffs shoulder surgery amount to callous, willful, or recalcitrant action entitling the Plaintiff to punitive damages?
Given the complete lack of explanation, the court held that defendant acted in an obstructionist manner, and that the Plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages and attorney's fees. The Court, however, limited the award for the period from May 2, 2007 (when defendant ceased to offer reasons for its concern regarding the left shoulder injury) to November 26, 2007 (when defendant authorized the surgery). The Court refused to give punitive damages for the period of time when the Plaintiff failed to complain about his left shoulder injury. The Court reasoned that a defendant can only be held liable for actions that it has been asked to take. Further, the court relied upon the lack of evidence in the medical records of Mulligan experiencing consistent problems with his left shoulder to limit the period for which Mulligan could recover punitive damages.
To receive an award of punitive damages and/or attorney's fees, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that defendant was "callous, willful, or recalcitrant" in withholding maintenance and cure payments.
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