A DISTRICT COURT DID NOT ABUSE ITS DISCRETION IN AWARDING PAST WAGES TO A SEAMAN, WHO WAS INJURED WHILE WORKING ABOARD A VESSEL OWNED BY AN EMPLOYER, BECAUSE THE SEAMAN DEMONSTRATED THAT HE SUSTAINED AN ECONOMIC LOSS AS A RESULT OF HIS INJURIES; THE AWARD WAS REMANDED FOR DETERMINATION OF WHETHER IT WAS PROPERLY BASED ON AFTER-TAX EARNINGS.

ANTHONY TODD VERSUS THE DELTA QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY

COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA, FOURTH CIRCUIT
2007-1518 (La.App. 4 Cir. 08/06/02); 2008 La. App. LEXIS 1090

August 6, 2008, Judgment Released

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Appellant employer sought review of a judgment of the Civil District Court, Orleans Parish (Louisiana) finding that appellee employee, a seaman working aboard a vessel owned by the employer, sustained a compensable injury and awarding past lost income, pre-judgment interest, and general damages under the Jones Act.

OVERVIEW:

The employee sustained a right knee injury in the galley of the vessel when he was hit by a loaded metal cart that was being handled by a co-worker. The employer contended that the district court erred in finding that the employee sustained any loss of his earning capacity because a functional capacity evaluation determined that he was capable of earning the same amount after the injury. Appellate review of an award for past wages was limited to a determination of whether the trier of fact abused its discretion and whether the award was excessive. Here, the employee demonstrated that he sustained an economic loss as a result of his injuries, but the court remanded for determination of whether the award was properly based on after-tax earnings. The court also held that the district court was not clearly wrong in not finding the employee contributorily or comparatively at fault. There were two permissible views of the evidence. The court also held that the district court was vested with great discretion when awarding damages. Here, the general damages award was consistent with other general damage awards made within the same jurisdiction for knee injuries.

OUTCOME:

The court reversed and remanded the award of past lost income for determination of whether it was properly based on after-tax earnings. In all other respects, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

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BECAUSE A RELEASE SIGNED BY A SEAMAN EXPRESSLY INCLUDED RELINQUISHMENT OF RIGHTS FOR ALL INJURIES EVEN IF UNKNOWN AND THE SEAMAN KNEW OF OTHER UNDISCLOSED INJURIES AT THE TIME OF SIGNING THE RELEASE, THE DOCTRINE OF MUTUAL MISTAKE WAS NOT AVAILABLE TO THE SEAMAN TO AVOID THE RELEASE IN HIS JONES ACT PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM AGAINST HIS EMPLOYER.

TRACY DURLEY, Plaintiff-Appellee v. THE OFFSHORE DRILLING COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 16893

August 6, 2008, Filed

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Defendant employer appealed pursuant to interlocutory review an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana invalidating a release of plaintiff seaman in the seaman’s personal injury action brought under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. app. § 688(a), and general maritime law for injuries allegedly received in a work-related accident.

OVERVIEW:

The employer had pleaded the release document as a defense to the suit. The district court found that when the seaman signed the release, both parties thought that severe bruising was the extent of the seaman’s injuries and that both parties shared the mutual mistake of diagnosis. On review, the court vacated the order as to the finding of mutual mistake. The release expressly covered any worsening of his condition subsequent to signing the release and made it clear that the seaman understood that he was relinquishing his rights for all injuries even if they were unknown. Therefore, the doctrine of mutual mistake was unavailable to the seaman to avoid the agreement. Further, the seaman admitted that he knew at the time of signing the release that he had other injuries but chose not to disclose the injuries to his doctors because he wanted to return to work. Thus, the mistake was not truly mutual. Because the seaman was not represented by counsel, there was evidence of economic duress, and the employer provided limited compensation, the court found that the seaman should be given the opportunity to present alternate grounds to set aside the release.

OUTCOME:

The court vacated the district court’s order upsetting the seaman’s release on grounds of mutual mistake and remanded to give the district court an opportunity to consider the seaman’s alternate grounds for upsetting the release.

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FISH PROCESSOR, WHO FILED A SUCCESSFUL MOTION TO COMPEL A SHIP OWNER TO PAY MAINTENANCE AND CURE FOR INJURIES THAT THE PROCESSOR SUSTAINED DURING AN ASSAULT BY A FELLOW CREW MEMBER, WAS NOT ENTITLED TO ATTORNEYS FEES BECAUSE THE OWNER’S FAILURE TO PAY MAINTENANCE AND CURE WAS NOT ARBITRARY, RECALCITRANT, OR UNREASONABLE.

ALEXANDER WARD, Plaintiff – Appellant, v. ICICLE SEAFOODS, INC., an Alaska Corporation, in personam; NORTHERN VICTOR F/V, USCG Doc. No. 248959, its gear, tackle and appurtenances, in rem, Defendants – Appellees.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 17349

August 12, 2008, Filed

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Plaintiff, a fish processor who was assaulted and injured by a fellow crew member while aboard a ship, appealed from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, which denied the processor’s request for attorneys fees and punitive damages, which he sought in connection with his successful motion to compel defendant ship owner to pay maintenance and cure for the injuries he sustained during the assault.

OVERVIEW:

Affirming the denial of attorneys fees, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the owner’s failure to pay maintenance and cure was not arbitrary, recalcitrant, or unreasonable. In the weeks immediately after the assault, as he was still receiving unearned wages from the owner, the processor expressly indicated that his symptoms had “subsided” and that he did not need or wish to receive medical attention. When, nearly six months later, the processor’s symptoms worsened and he sought payment of maintenance and cure, the owner requested evidence from the processor’s counsel substantiating the processor’s description of the assault to his treating physician. In addition, the court was bound by precedent holding that punitive damages were not available where the shipowner was willful and persistent in its failure to investigate a seaman’s claim for maintenance and cure or to pay maintenance.

OUTCOME:

The court affirmed the district court’s judgment.

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IN CASE GOVERNED BY 46 U.S.C.S. § 30508, DISTRICT COURT ERRED IN DISMISSING CRUISE SHIP PASSENGERS’ NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS AS TIME-BARRED; CONTRACTUAL LIMITATIONS PERIOD SHOULD HAVE BEEN EQUITABLY TOLLED BASED ON TIMELY FILING OF STATE COURT ACTION AND PROMPT FILING IN FEDERAL COURT AFTER STATE ACTION WAS DISMISSED BASED ON FORUM SELECTION CLAUSE.

JACK OLTMAN, individually and as Executor of the Estate of Bernice Oltman; SUSAN OLTMAN, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. HOLLAND AMERICA LINE, INC., a Washington corporation; HOLLAND AMERICA LINE–USA, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendants-Appellees.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 17632

August 19, 2008, Filed

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Plaintiffs, two cruise ship passengers and one passenger’s wife, sought review of a summary judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted in favor of defendant cruise ship operator in plaintiffs’ action alleging negligence that led to serious gastrointestinal illness and a loss of spousal consortium. The district court found the suit barred by the one-year limitations clause contained in the cruise contract.

OVERVIEW:

Plaintiffs initially filed an action against defendant in Washington state court within the one-year limitation period, but the state court dismissed the action based on a forum selection clause in the cruise contract. The same day that the state court dismissed the action, plaintiffs filed an essentially identical action against defendant in the district court, which was specified in the forum selection clause. The court rejected plaintiffs’ contention that the one-year limitations clause in the cruise tour contract was invalid. The court found that the limitations clause was reasonably communicated and that it was fundamentally fair. The court, however, agreed with plaintiffs that the district court erred in dismissing their claims as time-barred because the limitations period should have been tolled during the pendency of the state court action. Under the circumstances of the case, defendant would not be prejudiced by tolling the limitations period. The court held that the policy of repose was outweighed by the interests of justice and that the contractual limitations period should have been equitably tolled.

OUTCOME:

The court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the claims as time-barred. The court remanded the claims to the district court for further proceedings.

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PORTION OF SEAMAN’S MAINTENANCE AND CURE PAYMENTS COULD BE WITHHELD TO SATISFY CHILD SUPPORT ORDER. SUCH PAYMENTS WERE SUBJECT TO WITHHOLDING FOR CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS IF PAYMENTS CONSTITUTED INCOME UNDER STATE LAW, AND TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 154.062 DID NOT EXEMPT SUCH PAYMENTS FROM DEFINITION OF “RESOURCES” THAT WERE SUBJECT TO WITHHOLDING.

RAFAEL AGUILERA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALASKA JURIS F/V, O.N. 569276, Defendant, and FISHING COMPANY OF ALASKA, INC; et al., Defendants-Appellees.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 16469

August 4, 2008, Filed

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Appellant seaman challenged a judgment from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, which denied his motion for summary judgment in his action against appellee employer in which the seaman alleged that the employer had improperly deducted $ 10 per day from the $ 20 per day to which he was entitled as maintenance and cure payments.

OVERVIEW:

The seaman was injured while working aboard a fishing vessel while working for the employer, which led the employer to begin paying the seaman maintenance and cure in the amount of $ 20 per day. The employer began withholding $ 10 per day from those payments in satisfaction of a child support order that the employer received from the State of Texas. The seaman filed the instant complaint, seeking additional maintenance and cure payments from the employer. On appeal, the court held that, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. § 1738B(h)(2), maintenance and cure payments were subject to withholding for child support obligations, if those payments constituted income under relevant state law. The court held that Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.062(a) required courts to calculate “resources” for purposes of determining child support liability. Texas law did not exclude maintenance and cure payments from its definition of “resources.” Thus, the district court properly denied the seaman’s motion in which he sought a ruling that his maintenance and cure payments did not constitute income. The employer properly withheld portions of those payments in order to satisfy the child support order.

OUTCOME:

The court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

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SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR PLEASURE BOAT OWNERS WAS PROPER IN ACTION AGAINST ADMINISTRATRIX OF DECEDENT’S ESTATE UNDER 46 U.S.C.S. §§ 30505, 30511 OF LIMITATION OF LIABILITY ACT, 46 U.S.C.S. § 30501 ET SEQ.; OWNERS WERE ENTITLED TO EXONERATION AS THERE WAS NO GENUINE ISSUE AS TO CAUSATION BECAUSE EVIDENCE SHOWED THAT DECEDENT FELL FROM DOCK NOT BOAT.

BARBARA ROGERS and JULIAN ROGERS, as owners of the M/V Maggie Lou, for exoneration from or limitation of liability, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. DIANE LILLY, administratrix of the estate of Robert C. Lilly, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
08a0520n.06; 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 18172; 2008 FED App. 0520N (6th Cir.)

August 22, 2008, Filed

PROCEDURAL POSTURE:

Defendant, the administratrix of a decedent’s estate, sought review of a summary judgment from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted in favor of plaintiff pleasure boat owners in plaintiffs’ action under 46 U.S.C.S. §§ 30505, 30511 of the Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 30501 et seq., seeking exoneration or limitation of liability for any claims arising out of the decedent’s drowning death.

OVERVIEW:

Plaintiffs filed the instant action after defendant filed a wrongful death action in state court alleging that plaintiffs’ improper mooring of the boat at a yacht club caused the decedent to fall into the water at the disembarkation location, thus, resulting in the decedent’s drowning death. The district court exonerated plaintiffs from all liability because the record did not create a genuine issue of material fact as to the element of proximate causation, that is, whether the decedent fell from the boat or from the dock. The court agreed with the district court that the evidence permitted the court to draw only one conclusion–that the decedent fell from the dock and not from the boat. Plaintiffs cross-appealed the denial of their motion to strike certain hearsay statements and an expert report, but the court lacked jurisdiction over the cross-appeal because plaintiffs prevailed in all respects before the district court.

OUTCOME:

The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs. The court dismissed plaintiffs’ cross-appeal for lack of jurisdiction.