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Maritime Update: Court Rules Plaintiff is Not Jones Act Seaman

Jedd S. Malish - 

Jefferson v. Weeks Marine, Inc., 2016 WL 409603 (E.D. La. 2/3/16)

Plaintiff was an employee of Atlantic Sounding, a subsidiary of Weeks Marine.  Plaintiff was initially hired in August 2009 as a deckhand to work aboard one of its dredges.  Plaintiff worked on that vessel for three months and was then reassigned to work in Weeks’s Houma yard.  He was never assigned to a vessel thereafter.  While working out of Weeks’s Houma yard, he would occasionally work aboard vessels.  On the date of the incident, Plaintiff was part of a crew assigned to load scrap metal onto a Weeks barge.    While on the barge, Plaintiff injured his leg.  Plaintiff filed suit against the Defendants, alleging he was a Jones Act seaman.

The Defendants moved for summary judgment on the issue of seaman status.  The Plaintiff alleged that in 2014, his work assignment changed from working in the Houma yard to building pipe rafts.  The Plaintiff therefore argued that only the work he performed in 2014 should be considered in determining whether he was a seaman at the time he was injured.  The Court rejected this argument.  The Court stated that the issue was not whether one-year’s worth of work history is enough.  Rather, the issue is whether the Plaintiff’s work building pipe rafts constitutes a significant change in his employment assignment.

The Court found that the Plaintiff’s basic work assignment had changed when he began work building pipe rafts so as to affect his seaman status.  Accordingly, the Court applied  30% rule articulated in Chandris to the entire five year period when he was assigned to Weeks’s Houma yard.  The evidence demonstrated that Plaintiff spent 8.44% of his time in service of a vessel or fleet of vessels while working at Weeks’s Houma yard.  As this fell below the 30% Chandris threshold, the Court found that Plaintiff was not a Jones act seaman and granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

The Johnson case demonstrates how important it is for employers to keep detailed records of the maritime and non-maritime activities of their employees.  Failure to do so could mean the difference between an injured party maintaining a negligence action against his employer as opposed to being limited to state or federal compensation benefits.


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