A 2005 Supreme Court decision held that a crew member aboard a dredge qualifies
as a Jones Act SEAMAN because the dredge qualified as a VESSEL. The Supreme
Court heard the case on appeal from the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision
is significant because dredges were not previously regarded as vessels. As such,
dredge employees had been entitled to workers’ compensation type benefits under
the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), but not to more
generous benefits as a “seaman” under the Jones Act.

Willard Stewart was injured while working as a marine engineer aboard Super
Scoop, the world’s largest dredge. The owner, Dutra Construction Company, was
using Super Scoop to extend the Massachusetts Turnpike through a tunnel running
between South Boston and Boston Harbor to Logan Airport.

Super Scoop excavated material from the harbor floor and emptied it into scows
brought alongside. Willard Stewart had been feeding wires through a hatch onboard
one of those scows. The Super Scoop attempted to move the scow with its clamshell
bucket, but wound up colliding with the scow. The impact threw Steward headfirst
through a hatch to the deck below, where he was seriously injured.

Stewart sued Dutra Construction Company for negligence in Federal District Court. A
fundamental issue was whether Super Scoop was a vessel. If it was not seen as a
VESSEL, Stewart’s recovery would be limited to the LHWCA. The District Court and
the First Circuit Court of Appeals returned a decision in favor of Dutra, ruling the
dredge was not a vessel. Stewart appealed the decision.

The Supreme Court found that “vessel” is not defined in either the Jones Act or
LHWCA. However, in §§1 and 3 of the Revised Statutes of 1873, “vessel” was found
to include “every description of water-craft or other artificial contrivance used, or
capable of being used, as a means of transportation on the water.” With this
definition in hand, the Supreme Court reversed the appeals court and remanded the
case back to the lower court. This is a favorable decision for working mariners
aboard dredges.

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Who is a Seaman - What is a Vessel
Jones Act Seamen - Who qualifies? Under Maritime Law... What is a Vessel? What Vessels does the Jones Act Cover?
Maritime Courts Are Often
Asked to Make This Call....

....Seaman or Non-Seaman

This question has arisen in
other recent cases as well,
such as in the case of people
working aboard dormitory
barges. An interesting aspect
of the Stewart v. Dutra Case
was the absence of a statury
definition of vessel.

To read this case, go back to
the main menu and click the
links bar. The text of the case
appears under Maritime Law
Links.