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Koederitz Law Firm, LLC

Louisiana Jones Act/Seamen

The Jones Act and other Maritime Law Information

Mr. Koederitz has extensive experience working in the oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and has worked on boats, barges, production platforms, and drilling units. He worked in the offshore oil field industry in various capacities such as a general laborer as well as working in welding, pipe fitting, construction, gas-lift installations, quality control and other areas.

This experience led Mr. Koederitz to represent many offshore workers and their families in maritime personal injury and wrongful death claims. Maritime personal injury and wrongful
death claims are a substantial portion of his law practice.

Over the past 28 years Mr. Koederitz has handled hundreds of injury and death claims for Jones Act / Seamen and others injured on boats, barges, platforms, towboats, supply boats, crewboats, helicopters, drilling ships, drilling barges (including jackup, jacknife, submersible, semi-submersible units), other types of drilling rig units.

The Louisiana Maritime Lawyers of Koederitz Law Firm, LLC do not represent large corporations, insurers, or other institutions, but instead seeks to protect the rights of consumers, workers, or others who have been wronged by large corporations or others.

Louisiana Offshore Workers / Seamen

Maritime law applies to many workers in the Gulf of Mexico, on rivers, and in other bodies of water. These workers include persons working on jack up, submersible, and simi-submersible drilling rigs, various types of ships, barges, crew boats, tow boats, and other vessels. The maritime laws may also cover injured individuals that are not working, such as a person injured in a pleasure boat collision or a passenger on a cruise ship.

The maritime law is both complex and continually changing. At Koederitz Law Firm, LLC , we have extensive experience with hundreds of maritime personal injury claims. For a description of the types of maritime claims that Gary Koederitz has previously represented injured parties in, please see our Experience & Cases. For a more detailed description of the maritime laws, including the Jones Act and the General Maritime Law, please review the following summary of maritime law.

Click here to view FAQs for Maritime Offshore Workers / Seamen

Maritime Personal Injury Law

Maritime Personal Injury law generally includes the Jones Act,

46 U.S.C. §688, the General Maritime Law of the United States, and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. §901, et seq.

The Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. §688 provides that any “seaman” who suffers personal injury in the course of his employment may elect to maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury, and it generally adopts the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. §51, et seq., the law which protects railroad workers. The provision of the F.E.L.A. that negligence of an officer, agent or employee is required for liability also applies to Jones Act claims. Additionally, comparative negligence is applicable, and the employer may not assert the defense of assumption of risk. Significantly, the Jones Act does not define the term “seaman”, although hundreds of court decisions do in numerous settings.

General Maritime Law claims, fashioned by the Courts, generally include claims by seamen for unseaworthiness of vessels and for maintenance and cure benefits, and they also include claims for non-seamen founded on General Maritime tort law.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. §901, et seq, provides for workers’ compensation benefits for certain employees whose employment is maritime in nature, but who do not qualify as seamen. It also provides for tort claims against vessels under some circumstances for “vessel negligence” pursuant to 33 U.S.C. Sec. 905(b).

General description of seamen’s claims:

(1) Although “seaman” is not defined in the Jones Act, hundreds of cases have interpreted the term. The most cited case is Offshore Company v. Robison, 266 F.2d 769 (5th Cir. 1959), which provides a general test for seaman status. Robison held that a maritime worker is a seaman if he is assigned permanently to a vessel in navigation, or performs a substantial part of his work on the vessel, and if the capacity in which he is employed or the duties he performs contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission or the operational welfare of the vessel in terms of maintenance during movement or anchorage for future trips. This decision has allowed thousands of workers to enjoy the protections of the Jones Act, even though their duties are not traditionally maritime in nature or directly related to navigation of a vessel. Examples of seamen created by the Robison decision include offshore drilling rig crews on various barges and other movable structures, cooks on vessels, welders on pipe laying barges, and mechanics, engineers, electricians, painters, sandblasters, and others that maintain vessels that they serve on.

The United States Supreme Court has also held that aiding in navigation for purposes of seaman status does not mean that the employee must actually participate in navigation of the vessel. However, the employee’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission. McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337, 111 S.Ct. 807, 92 L.Ed. 2d 866 (1991). Subsequently, the Supreme Court somewhat blended the requirements of Robinson and Wilander to further define the connection to a vessel required for seaman status as the sum of two elements: the duties of the worker must contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission, and the worker must have a connection to a vessel or identifiable group of vessels in navigation substantial in terms of duration and nature. The court noted that the Jones Act was for protection primarily of sea-based maritime workers who owe allegiance to a vessel, and not to land-based employees who do not. Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172, 132 L.Ed. 2d 314 (1995).

When a worker’s duties require him to divide his time between vessel and land work, his seaman’s status is determined by considering his entire employment with the current employer. See, e.g., Barrett v. Chevron USA, Inc., 781 F.2d 1067 (5th Cir. 1986) (en banc). The division of time between land and vessel does not apply if the only connection of the worker to a vessel is that the worker rides as a passenger to a non-vessel job site and does not perform duties for the vessel. Such workers are not seamen, see, e.g., Mungia v. Chevron Co., USA, Inc., 768 F.2d 649 (5th Cir. 1985).

While an employee may become a seaman by working on multiple vessels, those vessels must be an identifiable group or fleet, which generally means that they must all be operated by the same entity. See, e.g., Harbor Tug and Barge, Co. v. Papai, 520 U.S. 548, 117 S.Ct. 1535, 137 L.Ed. 2d 800 (1997); Pickle v. International Oilfield Divers, Inc., 791 F.2d 1237 (5th Cir. 1986).

A seaman must have a vessel:

(1) A threshold requirement for seaman status is that the worker must have a certain relationship to a vessel; many cases have therefore had to interpret whether various structures are vessels. Numerous Fifth Circuit cases appear to provide the rule that for a structure to be a vessel its transportation function must be more than merely incidental, and it must engage in the transportation function. Vessel features, such as navigational aids, a raked bow, Coast Guard registration, and similar factors are not dispositive, but may be relevant factors helpful in determining vessel status. Some cases are:

Manuel v. Capital P.A.W. Drilling & Well Service, Inc., 135 F.3rd 344 (5th Cir. 1998)

Burchett v. Cargill, 48 F.3d 173 (5th Cir. 1995)

Ellender v. Kiva Construction Engineering, Inc., 909 F.2d 803 (5th Cir. 1990)

Gremillion v. Gulf Coast Catering Co., 904 F.2d 290 (5th Cir. 1990)

Daniel v. Ergon, Inc., 892 F.2d 403 (5th Cir. 1990)

Bernard v. Bennings Construction Company, Inc., 741 F.2d 824 (5th Cir. 1984)

Brunet v. Boh Bros Co., Inc., 715 F.2d 196 (5th Cir. 1983)

Pellegrin v. Sci-Tech Instruments, ( U.S.A.), Inc., 1998 U.S. Dist. Lexis 17801, Civil Action Number 95-3972

West v. David N. Lamulle Construction Company, Inc. 1998 U.S. Dist. Lexis 3687, Civil Action Number 96-3309 (E.D.La. 1998), 1998 WL 151428

See also: 1 U.S.C. §3 for statutory definition of “vessel”.

Vessels engaged in sea trials and vessels undergoing extensive repairs are deemed not to be vessels for the purposes of the Jones Act and General Maritime Law. For examples, see Sladen v. Sonat Offshore Drilling, Inc., 818 F.Supp. 1009 (SD Tex. 1993); Wixom v. Boland Marine & Manufacturing Company, 614 F.2d 956 (5th Cir. 1980).

The seaman’s rights:

Jones Act Negligence Claim:

Once the worker has qualified as a “seaman” for purposes of the Jones Act, he is entitled to bring an action for negligence against his employer, even if his injuries are caused by the negligence of a co-employee. Most significant to the employee is the broad obligation of his employer to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work. See Mahnich v. Southern S.S. Co., 321 U.S. 96, 88 L.Ed. 561, 64 S.Ct. 455 (1944); Ceja v. Mike Hooks, Inc., 690 F.2d 1191 (5th Cir. 1982); Davis v. Hill Engineering, 549 F.2d 314 (5th Cir. 1977).

Prior jurisprudence held Jones Act employers to a high standard of care, such that the slightest negligence on their part resulted in liability. At the same time, the seaman was held to a lesser obligation to protect himself. This rule changed with Gautreaux v. Scurlock, 84 F.3d 776 (5th Cir. 1996), reversed, 107 F.3d 331 (5th Cir. 1997) (en banc). Gautreaux overruled years of Fifth Circuit jurisprudence and held that the employer’s obligation is one of reasonable care, and the seaman’s duty is to act as a reasonable seaman under the circumstances.

Seamen may retain their status away from their vessel:

If a maritime worker qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act, he may continue to enjoy Jones Act seaman status even if he sustains injuries while away from his vessel, either on land or on another vessel. Some illustrative cases are:

Bertrand v. International Mooring & Marine, Inc., 700 F.2d 240 (5th Cir. 1983)

Farnsworth v. Basin Marine, Inc., 1999 U.S. Dist. Lexis 1016, Civil Action Number 97-3091 (E.D.La. 1999)

Savoie v. Otto Candies, Inc., 692 F.2d 363 (5th Cir. 1982).

Unseaworthiness Claim:

A seaman is also entitled to a claim under the General Maritime Law against the vessel owner or operator for dangerous conditions existing on the vessel. This claim is similar to “strict liability”, since the defendant may not use his lack of knowledge of the dangerous condition or the amount of care he has exercised as a defense. Additionally, the operator cannot delegate away his obligation to provide a seaworthy vessel.

The duty of the shipowner to provide a seaworthy vessel requires that the vessel gear and crew be reasonably fit for their intended use; any condition, even transitory, which renders the vessel unfit for her intended use also renders the vessel unseaworthy. The seaman must prove that the condition proximately caused his injury. See, e.g., Smith v. Transworld Drilling Co., 772 F.2d 157 (5th Cir. 1985); Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc., 362 U.S. 539, 4 L.Ed. 2d 941, 80 S.Ct. 926 (1960).

Note that seamen may combine their Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims in one action, and they are not required to elect one theory or the other. McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Co., 357 U.S. 221, 2 L.Ed. 2d 1272 78 S.Ct. 1207 (1958).

Claims based upon General Maritime tort:

These are claims asserted by either a seaman or non-seaman against a third party (not the seaman’s employer) for the negligence of that party. Some examples are a passenger on a casino river boat or a cruise ship, or a vessel employee who is injured through the fault of a contractor to the vessel. When the standard of care is not fixed by some other law, such as the Jones Act, and the general maritime tort law applies, the standard is one of reasonable care under the circumstances of each case. The starting point for reviewing various cases involving general maritime tort law is Kermarec v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 358 U.S. 625, 79 S.Ct. 406, 3 L.Ed. 2d 550 (1959).

Maritime products liability:

In the event the general maritime law applies, and injuries are caused by a defective product, jurisprudence establishes various requirements for the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case. Plaintiff must prove that the product is unreasonably dangerous in its normal use and/or foreseeable misuse, that it was in normal use or foreseeable misuse at the time of the injury, that the defect caused the injury, and that the defect existed when the product left control of the manufacturer. The absence of an adequate warning may by itself render a product defective and unreasonably dangerous, even without any manufacturing or design defect. Vickers v. Chiles Drilling Co., 822 F.2d 535 (5th Cir. 1987); Pavlides v. Galveston Yacht Basin, Inc., 727 F.2d 330 (5th Cir. 1989).

Liability for the defendant may be both in negligence and strict liability. See Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 402A; East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, 476 U.S. 858, 106 S.Ct. 2295, 90 L.Ed. 2d 865 (1986).

Circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to prove a product liability case under the General Maritime Law. See Vickers v. Chiles Drilling Co., supra; Lewis v. Timco, Inc., 697 F.2d 1252 (5th Cir. 1983).

Post-remedial measures may become admissible in maritime product liability claims. See Scurlock Marine, Inc. v. W.W. Patterson Company, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14044 (U.S.D.C., E.D., La).

The remaining Sieracki seamen:

At one time, longshoremen were considered seamen to the extent that they were allowed to seek damages for the unseaworthiness of the vessels they loaded or unloaded. Seas Shipping Co. v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, 90 L.Ed. 1099, 66 S.Ct. 872 (1946). Congress effectively repealed this right with the 1972 Amendments to the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. §901, et seq. The traditional longshoreman was limited to his workers’ compensation benefits, unless he was able to meet the requirements of Section 905(b) and establish vessel negligence. Some workers who work aboard vessels are neither seamen or longshoremen. The courts have generally held that these workers have retained their right to bring an action for unseaworthiness against the vessel when they are injured. Examples are river pilots and non-seamen injured aboard vessels while in the waters of foreign countries outside of the coverage of the Longshore Act. Additionally, the Longshore Act specifically excludes from its coverage individuals employed by certain clubs or camps, and a cook and watchman at a duck hunting camp injured while unloading supplies and equipment from a small boat was allowed to bring an unseaworthiness claim. See Green v. Vermilion Corporation, 144 F.3d 332 (5th Cir. 1998). For an unseaworthiness claim asserted by a cargo inspector who died while overseas on a vessel, see Jacobs v. Northern King Shipping Company, 1998 WL 13644 (E.D. La 1998).

Section 905(b) Actions:

The Longshore Act generally covers employees engaged in maritime employment, specifically including longshoremen and harbor workers, and including ship repair men, ship builders, and ship breakers. The Longshore Act also provides a list of exclusions from the coverage of the Act, most significantly the master or member of a crew of any vessel. See, 33 U.S.C. §902.

For some of those covered by the Longshore Act, section 905(b) provides for a tort claim in addition to compensation benefits in the event injuries are caused by vessel negligence. The burden of proof applicable to the plaintiff is much more stringent than that applied to Jones Act claims; claims based upon unseaworthiness are specifically prohibited. The Supreme Court has established general rules for the respective duties of the parties in claims covered by the Longshore Act in Scindia Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. v. DeLos Santos, 451 U.S. 156, 101 S.Ct. 1614, 68 L.Ed. 2d 1 (1981). In general, the Supreme Court established the following rules applicable to these claims:

(a) Before longshoring operations begin, the shipowner must exercise care to make the portions of the vessel it turns over to the stevedore safe, and warn the stevedore of hidden, unsafe conditions on the vessel of which the ship is or should be aware.

(b) Once longshoring operations begin, shipowner has no general duty to supervise stevedore’s work or inspect his area unless custom, contract, or law impose that duty. Shipowner may rely on stevedore’s expertise at this time.

(c) Once longshoring operations begin, shipowner need not protect stevedore’s employees, unless shipowner knows that the ship or its gear pose a danger to the longshoremen and that the stevedore is failing to protect them from that danger.

Numerous Fifth Circuit opinions have further refined the general rules set forth in Scindia; for examples see: Helaire v. Mobil Oil Co., 709 F.2d 1031 (5th Cir. 1983); Fontenot v. United States, 98 F.3d 205 (5th Cir. 1996); Masinter v. Tenneco Oil Company, 867 F.2d 892 (5th Cir. 1989).

In some circumstances, the injured longshoreman may sue his employer for vessel negligence if the employer is the owner of the vessel. See Smith v. M/V Captain Fred, 546 F.2d 119 (5th Cir. 1977). Employees engaged in ship building, ship repairing, or ship breaking are excluded from this remedy by Section 905.

Maintenance and cure:

The general maritime law provides seamen with a rough equivalent of workers’ compensation benefits through maintenance and cure. These benefits are owed without regard to the negligence or unseaworthiness of the employer or vessel. The rate to be paid per day to the injured worker depends upon the cost he incurs to replace the room and board he was given on the vessel. While worker’s compensation benefits often extend for a fixed number of weeks or throughout the period that the worker is disabled, maintenance and cure benefits extend only so long as the worker has not reached the point of “maximum cure”. Maximum cure is reached when the condition of the seaman can not be improved with further treatment; merely providing pain relief is not sufficient to avoid a finding that the seaman has reached maximum cure. For a description of the rights of seamen to maintenance and cure benefits, see Vaughan v. Atkinson, 369 U.S. 527, 82 S.Ct. 997, 8 L.Ed. 2d 88 (1962); Pelotto v. L & N Towing Co., 604 F.2d 396 (5th Cir. 1979).

If a seaman knowingly fails to disclose a pre-existing condition that the employer has inquired into, and the condition is found to be important in the employer’s decision to hire the plaintiff, he may be barred from recovery of maintenance and cure benefits. See McCorpen v. Central Gulf Steamship Corp., 396 F.2d 547 (5th Cir. 1968); Caulfield v. Katheryn v. Rae Towing, 1989 AMC 1769 ( E.D. La. 1989).

Punitive damages are no longer allowed in the event the employer wilfully fails to pays maintenance and cure. However, attorney’s fees may be recovered if the proper showing of egregious behavior is made. Additionally, a new claim for damages may accrue for suffering and additional injury if it is caused by the employer’s failure to pay benefits. See, e.g., Guevara v. Maritime Overseas Corporation, 59 F.3d 1496 (5th Cir. 1995).

Seamen’s releases:

In general, the courts have required that a party who asserts a seaman’s release as a defense must demonstrate that the seaman had an informed understanding of his rights and a full appreciation of the consequences of executing the release. Otherwise, the seaman will be entitled to avoid the release and assert a claim despite having already received a settlement. See, e.g., Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 63 S.Ct. 246, 87 L.Ed. 239 (1942); Blanco v. Moran Shipping Co., 483 F.2d 63 (5th Cir. 1973); Charpentier v. Fluor Ocean Services, Inc., 613 F.2d 81 (5th Cir. 1980).

Meet Louisiana Maritime Lawyer Gary Koederitz

Our Louisiana Maritime and Offshore Injury practice encompasses the State of Louisiana, including East Baton Rouge Parish, West Baton Rouge Parish, St. Bernard Parish, Orleans Parish, Caddo Parish, Lafayette Parish, Calcasieu Parish, Rapides Parish, the Louisiana Gulf Coast, Houma, New Orleans, Hammond, Metaire, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Slidell, New Iberia, Chalmette, Tallulah, Bogalusa, Covington, Franklin, Abbeville, Morgan City, Minden, Winnsboro, Gonzales and all Louisiana cities in between.

Contact us to discuss your Maritime or Offshore Injury Claim.

Koederitz Law Firm, LLC
4607 Bluebonnet Blvd., Suite B
Baton Rouge, LA 70809
Telephone: (225) 295-9494
Telecopier: (225) 295-9495
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