On April 4, 2011, Judge McNamara of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, granted the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a Section 905(b) action for vessel negligence. Under Section 905(b), “an employee may sue his employer ‘qua vessel’ if he was injured as a result of the vessel’s negligence,” or, in other words, “he may sue for negligence in the employer’s ‘owner’ capacity.’”
Here, the decedent was working as a crane operator on barges and on bridge decks. On December 23, 2008, while he was engaged in work on the Twin Span Bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, the decedent’s crane tipped over a bridge deck and into the lake. The decedent was unconscious for several minutes before his body slipped through the broken glass of the crane, and he became submerged in the water. A rescue team was dispatched, but they were not able to pull the decedent into the defendant’s rescue boat. The team dragged him to shore while keeping his head above the water. Nonetheless, the decedent did not survive this accident. The plaintiff, the deceased’s widow, argued that the life saving vessel was ill equipped, and because of its inadequacies, the rescue team was not able to resuscitate the decedent in time.
The court held that only one accident occurred, and that it was on the bridge deck and not on a vessel. The court further held that there was no competent evidence of vessel negligence. For instance, there was no proof that dragging the decedent to shore with his head above the water instead of pulling him into the boat in any way decreased his chances of survival. Further, the plaintiff had not pointed to any condition of a vessel that caused or contributed to the decedent’s injuries. The court noted that its holding was in line with Bach v. Trident S.S. Co., Inc., 920 F.2d 322 (5th Cir. 1991), where the Fifth Circuit rejected a similar “failure to rescue argument,” and refused to import loss of chance of survival into the Section 905(b) context. Finally, the court noted that its opinion closely followed Chaisson v. Hornbeck Offshore Services, Inc., No. H-09-0506, 2010 WL 1727043 (S.D. Tex., April 28, 2010), where the court refused to award benefits under Section 905(b) where there was a failure to identify any physical condition of a vessel or any activities undertaken by a crew member that caused the death.
Billot v. Boh Bros. Constr. Co, LLC, No. 09-7510, 2011 WL 1327040 (E.D. La. April 4, 2011).