Friday, October 28, 2016

For maritime attorneys who represent commercial mariners, one
of the most fundamental questions that confront them is whether
their plaintiff client is a “seaman” for the purposes of the Jones
Act. Admiralty courts require that certain legal prerequisites be
satisfied for employees injured in the course of their
employment, whether or not on navigable waters, to satisfy legal
standing as a plaintiff. Before the legal threshold is satisfied that
opens the door to providing maintenance and cure, other
economic losses, and the non-economic damages such as pain
and suffering, the injury claimant must demonstrate status as a
seaman.

Seaman status means the jury would find that (1) the plaintiff
contributed to the function of or helped accomplish the mission
of, a vessel; (2) the plaintiff's contribution was limited to a
particular vessel or identifiable group of vessels; (3) the plaintiff's
contribution was substantial in terms of its (a) duration or (b)
nature; and (4) the course of the plaintiff's employment regularly
exposed the plaintiff to hazards of the sea -
Jones Act seaman
status test under maritime law of Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis 515 U.S.
347 (1995)

The court emphasized that its longstanding test for seaman
status under the Jones Act required "`a more or less permanent
connection with the ship,'" This is also grounded in maritime
case law, to wit, Salgado v. M. J. Rudolph Corp., 514 F.2d 750, 755
(CA2 1975).

In a recent federal case from the Fifth Circuit in the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the appellant
employee challenged the district court’s order on summary
judgment that held he wasn’t a seaman, which resulted in
dismissal of his lawsuit against the employer. On appeal, the
circuit court agreed and affirmed, examining evidence showing
that the appellant suffered a brain aneurism while serving on an
offshore platform rig. More than 30% of his work was aboard
various vessel rigs during over the span of working for the
company for twelve years.

The court examined the cornerstone maritime case law for
seaman status, citing the Supreme Court, which stated that
when “a maritime employee receives a new work assignment in
which his essential duties are changed” courts should assess
“the substantiality of his vessel-related work made on the basis
of his activities in his new position.” The appellant argued that he
was not permanently reassigned to his duties aboard platforms
during the one and one-half years before his aneurism.

There was no evidence produced that went to the issue of plans
for reassigning employee. The superintendent on the rig offered
testimony supporting there were no intentions of reassignment.
Therefore, the circuit court affirmed the decision of the district
court.

Felder v. Nabors Offshore Corporation, No. 16-30461 (5th Cir.
2016) http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/16/16-30461.0.
pdf -
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCOURTS-laed-2_14-cv-
02666/content-detail.html








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