Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer LLC

Maritime Update: La. Appeals Court Upholds Ruling That Work Platform is Not a Vessel


In the case of Armand v. Terral River Serv., 2014 La. App. LEXIS 2920; 14-610 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/10/14), the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the employer of a dock worker who sued under the Jones Act. He alleged he was injured on a vessel and therefore claimed to be entitled to bring a lawsuit for his injuries which involved partial amputation of his thumb. The appeals court summarized the facts as follows. The injured worker was employed for approximately eight months from June 2012 to February 2013. He had been hired as an operator/deck hand and his work duties included activities both on the shore and “on water.” His on-shore duties included loading fertilizer onto trucks for delivery from the company’s land based warehouse facility. He also worked on land for approximately three months using an excavator to move sand to enlarge the port facility. It was estimated he spent approximately thirty to forty percent of his work time “on the shore.”

The employee’s “on water” duties where he spent 60 to 70% of his time were performed primarily on a floating but fixed work platform located on the Red River. The work platform was tied securely with cables to a dolphin, a marine structure moored to the river bottom downstream of the work platform. The work platform was also attached to the river bottom by two sets of three pipes, bound together, and attached at the bow and the stern of the work platform with a system of chains and cables. The pipes holding the work platform were driven deep into the river bottom. The platform had no navigational function and was fixed in place. The work platform had no United States Coast Guard documentation, no independent means of propulsion, could not independently navigate, had no means of steering, and if it were to were to be moved (which had not occurred since late 2010), it would involve a long process requiring at least two tug boats and five to six personnel.

The opinion of the trial court was affirmed on appeal that under the Supreme Court opinion in Stewart v Dutra, the work platform lacked “vessel” status: “Simply put, a watercraft is not ‘capable of being used’ for maritime transport in any meaningful sense if it has been permanently moored or otherwise rendered practically incapable of transportation or movement.”

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Bill Schwartz at (504) 569-2900 or wschwartz@bhbmlaw.com.


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