June 11, 2019

In the recent issue of WorkBoat magazine, Tim covered the subject
of liability for vessel interests calling for emergency medical
assistance for an injured commercial mariner. In the typical Jones
Act case, the focus tends to be on the seaman's injuries and
whether negligence or unseaworthiness on the part of the vessel
contributed to that. The Jones Act deals with other central issues as
well, such as the injury occurring in the course of employment. It
also deals with maintenance and cure for ordinary living and
medical expenses to cope with the financial burdens created by the
injuries. However, a recent Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in
Louisiana confronted the issue of whether the vessel interests
summoning emergency medical care/ambulance response could
be liable. This issue does not commonly arise in commercial
mariner accident cases involving the Jones Act.

Vessel Owner’s Liability for Medical Response in a Jones Act Case

A Fifth Circuit Appeals Court in Louisiana recently examined the
issue of whether a vessel operator could be held liable for the
actions of shoreside medical response personnel. The matter
arose when a seaman aboard a tugboat suffered a stroke while
helping to load the docked vessel.

The captain called 911 and first responders arrived. At the direction
of the Louisiana Emergency Response Network, the ambulance
took the crew member to a nearby hospital. Paramedics suspected
that the seaman was suffering a stroke. At the hospital, the staff
performed a cat scan without contrast. Physicians suspected a
brain mass and transferred him to a different hospital. The seaman’
s medical expert argued that a cat scan with contrast would have
helped diagnose the stroke.  The seaman had not been given
something called tissue plasminogen activator, a medication that
might have improved his recovery following the stroke had it been
administered in the first three hours. As a result of the stroke, the
seaman became permanently disabled.

The matter made its way to federal court when the seaman sued on
the grounds that the vessel owner had provided an unseaworthy
vessel and had breached its duty to provide prompt and adequate
medical care. The vessel owner filed a motion for summary
judgment. A motion is a request for a court to do something, such
as dismissing a case or forcing a party to do something. Summary
judgment means a party in a lawsuit asks the court to find there is
no material issue of fact as to a case, or disputed elements within a
case. In this lawsuit, the vessel owner’s motion essentially asked
the court to find that it had (1.) not acted negligently in calling 911,
and (2.) that it should not be liable for the actions of the medical
staff at the hospital.

The lower court ruled in favor of the vessel owner. On appeal, the
Fifth Circuit Appeals Court in Louisiana re-examined the matter and
ruled in favor of the vessel owner. The court’s decision made a
number of observations as to the dynamics between the various
parties. The vessel owner had not instructed the ambulance to
bring the seaman to that particular hospital. Additionally, the vessel
owner did not have kind of relationship with the hospital regarding
the care of the its employees.

The court noted that the vessel owner had not selected the hospital
to acts as its agent or otherwise act on its behalf. The court also
found no evidence that the vessel owner knew how events would
unfold once first responders took the injured seaman away in the
ambulance. Based on these reasons, the appeals court upheld the
lower court’s decision in favor of the vessel owner.

Ref: Randle v. Crosby Tugs, Action No. No. 17-30963, United States
Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit




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