CAPTAIN OF VESSEL BROUGHT ACTION AGAINST FORMER EMPLOYER AND SUPERVISOR SEEKING MAINTENANCE AND CURE AND DAMAGES UNDER THE JONES ACT AND GENERAL MARITIME LAW. FOLLOWING BENCH TRIAL, THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA, THE COURT RULED IN PLAINTIFF’S FAVOR ON MAINTENANCE AND CURE CLAIMS, BUT AGAINST PLAINTIFF ON HIS UNSEAWORTHINESS AND JONES ACT NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS. BOTH PARTIES APPEALED. FIFTH CIRCUIT TOOK AWAY THE MAINTENANCE AND CURE AWARD BASED ON A MCCORPEN DEFENSE, AND AFFIRMED THE RULING IN FAVOR OF THE EMPLOYER ON THE JONES ACT NEGLIGENCE AND UNSEAWORTHINESS CLAIMS.
777 F.3d 237
United States Court of Appeals,
Willie MECHE, Plaintiff–Appellant Cross–Appellee
Alex DOUCET; Key Marine Services, L.L.C., Defendants–Appellees Cross–Appellants.
No. 14–30032. | Jan. 22, 2015.
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Captain of vessel brought action against former employer and supervisor seeking maintenance and cure and damages under the Jones Act and general maritime law. Following bench trial, the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, the court ruled in plaintiff’s favor on maintenance and cure claims, but against plaintiff on his unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence claims. Both parties appealed.
OVERVIEW: Plaintiff–Appellant/Cross–Appellee Willie Meche (“Meche”) filed action seeking maintenance and cure and damages under the Jones Act and general maritime law against his former employer, Defendant–Appellee/Cross–Appellant Key Marine Services, L.L.C. (“Key”), and his former supervisor, Defendant–Appellee/Cross–Appellant Alex Doucet (“Doucet”). Following a bench trial, the district court ruled in Meche’s favor and against Key and Doucet on his maintenance and cure claims, but against Meche on his unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence claims. In addition to awarding maintenance and cure, the district court awarded Meche punitive damages, attorney’s fees, costs, and pre-and post-judgment interest against both Defendants. Meche now appeals every adverse aspect of the district court’s judgment. Key and Doucet cross-appeal and challenge the district court’s judgment on several grounds. Meche was the captain of the crew boat MISS CATHERINE, a vessel which served a drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana. On June 20, 2008, the vessel was tied to the rig, which was under tow to a new location near Cote Blanche, Louisiana. Meche claims that he injured his back on this date while lifting a hatch cover to check the oil on the vessel. Meche alleged that stormy conditions caused a five foot wave to hit the vessel and throw him over a railing. Meche filed suit against Key (Meche’s employer and the owner of the vessel) and Doucet (Meche’s supervisor and the toolpusher on the rig under tow at the time of Meche’s injury). Meche asserted claims under the Jones Act and general maritime law, including a claim for maintenance and cure, against both Defendants. Key and Doucet denied that the incident ever occurred and argued that Meche forfeited his right to maintenance and cure by lying about his preexisting spinal injuries on his pre-employment application and medical questionnaire. The district court held a bench trial and issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court first found that Meche’s testimony that he was thrown over the railing by a five foot wave was incredible because it conflicted with his contemporaneous descriptions of the incident, which all stated that he had strained his back lifting a hatch cover to check the vessel’s oil. The court also found that the weather and seas were calm at the time of Meche’s injury, which further undermined Meche’s testimony. Consistent with its finding that Meche merely strained his back while lifting the hatch cover, the district court concluded that Defendants were not negligent and that the vessel was not unseaworthy. However, the court found that Meche aggravated his preexisting spinal injury when he lifted the hatch cover on the vessel. The court therefore ruled that Meche could recover maintenance and cure from both Key and Doucet. The court rejected Defendants’ argument that Meche forfeited his right to maintenance and cure by lying about his preexisting medical conditions on his pre-employment questionnaire. The court found that Key “did not require a pre-employment medical examination or interview.” The court also found that “Meche did not consider his pre-existing condition to be a matter of importance.” As a result, the district court concluded that “Meche did not intentionally conceal his medical history” and was therefore entitled to maintenance and cure. The court further concluded that Key and Doucet had wrongfully refused to pay Meche maintenance and cure in bad faith. The court accordingly awarded Meche punitive damages and attorney’s fees against both Defendants. Finally, the court awarded Meche pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest, and costs. Meche then appealed, and Key and Doucet cross-appealed. Meche made numerous arguments on appeal but all of them were rejected by the Court. Conversely, all of the arguments made by the employer were accepted by the Court. The Court vacated the maintenance and cure finding based on a McCorpen Defense that Meche concealed information about his prior spinal injuries. The district court found that Meche sustained three prior work-related low back and neck injuries between 1984 and 1994, before he applied to work for Moncla. Meche received disability payments and sued his former employers for damages arising from these three injuries. Meche settled one of these lawsuits for $140,000.00 and another lawsuit for $30,000.00. Thus, court found that Meche was clearly aware of his preexisting spinal conditions at the time he applied to work for Moncla. Court held that Key established all three elements of its McCorpen defense, and thus the court vacated the maintenance and cure award against Key, as well as the award of pre-and post-judgment interest, costs, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.
OUTCOME: The court vacated the entire judgment against both Doucet and Key, but affirmed the district court’s judgment in all other respects.
DISTRICT COURT GRANTED SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO UNSEAWORTHINESS CLAIM WHERE COURT HELD THAT FELLOW CREWMEMBER’S CONDUCT WAS A SINGLE ACT OF NEGLIGENCE RATHER THAN A CONDITION OF THE SHIP.
2015 WL 419694
Only the Westlaw citation is currently available.
United States District Court,
Cassandra BURDETT, Plaintiff,
MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY, INC., Defendant.
Civ. No. 13–00703 ACK–KSC. | Signed Jan. 30, 2015.
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: In Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claim, both Plaintiff and Defendant Shipowner moved for Summary Judgment regarding the unseaworthiness claim. In other words, both parties asserted they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the unseaworthiness claim.
OVERVIEW: Plaintiff Cassandra Burdett claims she was injured while working as a seaman aboard the vessel M/V Manoa. Defendant Matson Navigation Company, Inc. (“Matson”) is the owner and operator of the M/V Manoa. On or about April 26, 2012, while working in the engine room of the M/V Manoa, Plaintiff was walking up the ladder well in the lower engine room when a portable air blower weighing approximately 30 pounds fell over the rail from two levels above and struck her on the head. At the time of the incident, on the level above Plaintiff, other members of the crew were conducting a piston overhaul, or removing and replacing a piston using a crane. Another crewmember testified that he was helping to guide the piston down a walkway, and that he moved the blower out of the way to avoid any of the crewmembers tripping on it as they were walking backwards guiding the piston. That crewmember also testified that ten to twenty seconds later the blower fell over the rail and struck Plaintiff on the head. Plaintiff filed her Complaint for Personal Injury Damages against Matson asserting claims for negligence, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure. The instant motions both address Plaintiff’s claim of unseaworthiness; both parties argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff’s claim that her injuries were the result of the M/V Manoa’s unseaworthy condition. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment as to unseaworthiness because the crew “fail[ed] to require the crew to properly secure equipment aboard the vessel in order to promote safe and seaworthy conditions.” Plaintiff asserts that the placement of the air blower too close to the ladder well and the failure to properly secure it rendered the vessel unseaworthy. Matson counters that Plaintiff failed to identify any evidence to support her claim that there was an unsafe condition or practice on the M/V Manoa. Rather, Matson argued, Plaintiff’s injuries were, at the most, the possible result of the isolated negligence of a crewmember and, thus, cannot support a claim for breach of the warranty of seaworthiness. Court cited to precedent holding that an “isolated, personal negligent act” is not sufficient to give rise to a claim for unseaworthiness because that would “subvert the fundamental distinction between unseaworthiness and negligence.” Thus, a crewmember’s “single and wholly unforeseeable” act of negligence is not sufficient to give rise to liability of the shipowner for unseaworthiness. Id. Unseaworthiness is a condition which must be established with more than a single act. Court concluded that the crewmember’s act of placing the air blower on the side of the walkway and not tying it down constituted a single negligent act. Court held that in such a circumstance, it cannot be said that the positioning of the unsecured air blower constituted a condition of the ship. Court held that Unseaworthiness is a condition, and must be established with more than a single act.
OUTCOME: The Court denied Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to her unseaworthiness claim, and granted Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.
DISTRICT COURT CONDUCTED DETAILED BORROWED SERVANT DOCTRINE ANALYSIS AND FOUND THAT A STAFFING AGENCY WAS NOT THE EMPLOYER OF AN INJURED BARGE WORKER, BUT INSTEAD THE WORKER WAS THE BORROWED SERVANT OF WEEKS MARINE.
2015 WL 331861
Only the Westlaw citation is currently available.
United States District Court,
In re WEEKS MARINE, INC., as owner and operator of the BT 229 for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability.
Civil Action No. 13–CV–831–JWD–SCR. | Signed Jan. 26, 2015.
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Owner of barge filed limitation of liability proceeding for personal injury damages allegedly suffered by worker aboard barge. Worker’s employer asserted a claim for reimbursement of worker’s compensation and maintenance and cure benefits paid to worker, alleging that worker was barge owner’s borrowed servant. Worker’s employer moved for summary judgment.
OVERVIEW: This is a limitation of liability proceeding brought by Weeks Marine, Inc. (“Weeks”) as the owner of the barge BT 229. In its complaint, Weeks claims that it is entitled to exoneration from or alternatively, limitation of liability, for personal injury damages alleged to have been suffered by Randall Harrold (“Harrold”) on October 26, 2012 as he was working aboard barge BT 229. In addition to filing an answer and claim in the limitation action, Harrold filed a separate suit in the Louisiana 19th Judicial District Court for personal injuries under the Jones Act, and for unseaworthiness. Harrold also claimed entitlement to maintenance and cure. Harrold’s suit was removed to the Middle District of Louisiana and consolidated with the limitation action. Ultimately, Harrold’s suit was deconsolidated from the limitation action and remanded to state court. On December 7, 2011, Weeks entered into a contract (“Service Contract”) with Aerotek, Inc. (“Aerotek”), a staffing service agency. In that contract, Aerotek agreed to provide supplemental staffing of workers for Weeks. Harrold signed an Employment Agreement with Aerotek in which he agreed to be assigned to work as a crane operator for Weeks beginning on that date. Harrold worked for Weeks as a crane operator for 17 days between his start date of September 22, 2012, and the time of his accident on October 26, 2012. Harrold was injured as he was assisting another worker repair the crane on the BT 229. Aerotek asserted a claim in the limitation action seeking reimbursement of worker’s compensation and maintenance and cure benefits paid to Harrold, alleging that Weeks was Harrold’s borrowing employer. In this Motion for Summary Judgment, Aerotek seeks a judicial determination that, at the time of the accident, Harrold was a borrowed servant of Weeks and therefore is entitled to terminate maintenance and cure benefits to Harrold and, in addition, is entitled to recover from Weeks reimbursement of the sums it paid to Harrold as a result of his October 26, 2012 accident. Weeks counters that there are questions of fact regarding both Harrold’s status as a borrowed employee as well as the correctness of amounts paid by Aerotek to Harrold for maintenance and cure and/or benefits under the Longshore and Harborworkers Compensation Act. Thus, Weeks contends that Aerotek’s Motion for Summary Judgment should be denied. Court went through a detailed analysis of the borrowed servant doctrine and determined that Harrold was the borrowed servant of Weeks Marine.
OUTCOME: Aerotek, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Borrowed Servant Status was granted in part such that, as a matter of law, Claimant, Randall Harrold, is the borrowed servant of Petitioner in Limitation, Weeks Marine, Inc. Further ordered that Aerotek’s maintenance and cure obligation is terminated.