U.S. Fifth Circuit reverses district court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that ROV Technician was not a seaman as a matter of law

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a district court erred in finding that a plaintiff, who was a technician who navigated and controlled remotely operated vehicles (“ROVs”) for offshore applications, qualified as a “seaman” as a matter of law. ROVs are unoccupied mechanical devices used to service and repair offshore, underwater drilling rigs. Technicians navigate and control ROVs aboard an ROV Support Vessel, to which the ROVs remain tethered while in use. Technicians work inside a windowless shipping container converted into an ROV command center located on the support vessel. In the context of his claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to recover unpaid wages for overtime worked during his employment, the district court granted summary judgment against the plaintiff, finding that he qualified as a seaman under the FLSA and was exempt from the Act’s overtime provisions.

 

The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, finding that the jurisprudence upon which the district court relied was distinguishable. It focused on the fact that ROV Technicians had a completely separate command structure than that of the tankerman considered in the Coffin case relied upon by the district court. Thus, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because it had not been established as a matter of law that the seaman exemption applied. The matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

 

Halle et. Al. v. Galliano Marine Service, LLC

Federal District Court Once Again Addresses Discoverability of Surveillance

The Eastern District of Louisiana recently issued another opinion interpreting Chiasson v. Zapata Gulf Marine Corp., the benchmark Fifth Circuit case that guides the discoverability of surveillance as substantive versus impeachment evidence.  Plaintiff alleged that, while employed as a Jones Act seaman, he experienced an accident that resulted in injury to his back and other parts of his body.  In filing against his employer for Jones Act benefits and other defendants for negligence under general maritime law, Plaintiff filed an expedited motion to compel production of surveillance obtained by his Jones Act employer prior to his deposition.  Employer objected to the production of surveillance arguing that surveillance was non-discoverable impeachment evidence at the present stage of litigation.  The District Court agreed that, under Chiasson, Plaintiff was entitled to production of surveillance tapes as substantive evidence, but that Chiasson did not address the timing of disclosure.  The court agreed with Employer that the proper procedure would be to produce the surveillance evidence subsequent to Plaintiff’s deposition in order to preserve the substantive and impeachment value of the surveillance evidence.

 

Krekorian v. FMC Technologies, Inc.

Louisiana law applies over maritime law where accident occurred on continental shelf off coast of Louisiana

On March 10, 2017 the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana held that Louisiana substantive law, not maritime law, applied in a dispute governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”).  The plaintiff claimed that he was injured while aboard a fixed SPAR oil and gas production platform known as Devil’s Tower, which is located on the continental shelf off the coast of Louisiana.  Devil’s Tower has no means of propulsion and is connected to the seabed by a mooring system consisting of chains, cables, and piles or caissons embedded into the ocean floor.  Finding that Louisiana was the adjacent state of the location where the incident occurred and the incident took place on a situs covered by OCSLA, Louisiana state substantive law rather than maritime law governed plaintiff’s lawsuit.

 

Spisak v. Apache Corporation, et al.

BENEFITS REVIEW BOARD HOLDS STATE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION SETTLEMENT TOLLS STATUTORY BAR

In the 1970s, Claimant worked for a LHWCA-covered employer as a welder. Subsequently, he worked for non-covered employers until he retired voluntarily. During the course of his employment with the Longshore employer, Claimant was exposed to asbestos, and, in 2009, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. In August 2010, Claimant filed a claim for benefits under Connecticut state workers’ compensation law. On December 5, 2012, the state workers’ compensation commissioner approved settlement, and Claimant received payment on approximately the same day. In October 2013, Claimant filed a claim for benefits under the LHWCA. Employer filed a motion for summary decision, asserting that the claim was not filed timely. The administrative law judge denied the motion and awarded benefits to Claimant; Employer appealed to the Benefits Review Board.

 

The Board, in reviewing Section 13(b)(2), noted that Claimant would be barred from filing a LHWCA claim if he failed to file either within two years of becoming aware of the relationship between his illness and his employment, or within one year of the last payment of compensation. As to the latter factor, the Board looked to the definition of “compensation” under Section 2(12). In interpreting “compensation” under that provision, the Board held that a settlement for workers’ compensation benefits under a state statutory scheme was a “payment of compensation” sufficient to toll the statute of limitations under Section 13(b)(2). Thus, Claimant’s October 2013 claim was timely filed within one year of his state-approved settlement in December 2012.

 

Robinson v. Electric Boat Corp.