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Maritime Update: Supreme Court Denies Writ in Suit Involving Work Related Stress Under the Jones Act

Skye v. Maersk Line, Ltd. Corp., 751 F.3d 1262 (11th Cir. 2014), writ denied 2015 U.S. LEXIS 3032 (May 4, 2015)

Plaintiff William Skye, a former chief mate aboard Sealand Pride, operated by defendant, Maersk Line Limited, filed a Jones Act claim against Maersk. Skye alleged that his diagnosis of a left ventricular hypertrophy was caused by his working conditions. Skye alleged that Maersk failed to provide him with reasonable working hours, sufficient personnel, and acceptable rest time. Skye alleged that Maersk had him work between 90 and 105 hours per week for 70 or 84 days at a time, and that this excessive workload cause his heart condition.

At trial, the jury found Maersk liable to Skye, who the jury found suffered damages of $2,362,299.00, which the district court reduced to $590,574.75 to account for Skye’s comparative negligence. Maersk moved for a judgment as a matter of law on the ground that the decision of the Supreme Court in Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, 114 S. Ct. 2396 (1994), barred Skye’s complaint. The district court denied that motion and entered judgment in favor of Skye.

On May 15, 2014, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of district court. The Court held that Skye’s complaint of an injury caused by work-related stress is not cognizable under the Jones Act, which concerns injuries caused by physical perils under Gottshall. The Court found that “an arduous work schedule and an irregular sleep schedule are not physical perils.” Citing Gottshall, the Court further found that “[C]ompensating Skye for his injury would potentially lead to, in the words of the Supreme Court, “a flood of trivial suits, the possibility of fraudulent claims . . . and the specter of unlimited and unpredictable liability” because there is no way to predict what effect a stressful work environment – compared to a physical accident such as an exploding boiler – would have on any given employee.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Fay wrote, “[B]eing required to work 90 and 105 hours per week for 70 or 84 days at a time is hardly being given a safe place to work.” Constrained by the holding in Gottshall, however, Judge Foy agreed with the majority opinion. He hoped, however, that the Supreme Court will revisit this area of the law.

Skye filed an application for supervisory writs with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, declined Judge Foy’s invitation to revisit the scope of the Gottshall decision and denied writs on May 4, 2015.



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