Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer LLC

Maritime Update: Denial of Seaman Status

Alexander v. Express Energy Services Operating, L.P.

On May 7, 2015, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment in favor of the employer on seaman status. This resulted in a dismissal of his lawsuit.

In the case of Alexander v. Express Energy Services Operating, L.P. the Fifth Circuit rejected the appeal of an injured worker and found instead he was not a seaman. The court followed the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis which requires for seaman status (1) a worker must not only contribute to the function or mission of a vessel, (2) he or she must also have a connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels that is substantial in duration. In other words, they must show they spend a substantial portion of their work aboard the vessel on which they were injured.

In this case, using the 5th Circuit “rule of thumb” that a worker must spend at least 30% of their time working on the vessel, they found the plaintiff did not sustain his burden of proof. Aleaxander was an employee of a company that did plug & abandonment (P&A) work on fixed platforms. On the job in which he was injured, there was a liftboat alongside the platform which had its crane assisting in the P & A work done on the platform. While on the platform, Alexander was injured when the liftboat crane wireline snapped dropping equipment onto his foot. In the District Court, Alexander’s employer filed for a motion for summary judgment that he spent more than 65% of his time on the platform doing his work. The motion was granted and the plaintiff appealed. The 5th Circuit upheld the summary judgment ruling that while plaintiff did work “near” a vessel, he did not prove he worked 30% or more time on board a vessel.

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