Plaintiff, a Jones Act seaman, instituted a maritime action against his employer to recover for injuries sustained when a skiff he was piloting allided with a bridge. Additionally, Plaintiff argued that he should recover for the allegedly negligent medical treatment he received immediately after the crash. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ultimately agreed with the district court’s decision to dismiss Plaintiff’s Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claims.
Further, the Fourth Circuit agreed that Plaintiff’s employer was not liable for the allegedly negligent medical treatment Plaintiff received after his accident. To be certain, a shipowner can become vicariously liable for a seaman’s injuries when the shipowner selects a doctor who acts negligently. A shipowner’s vicarious liability is based upon the level of control the owner had when selecting the physician. Where a ship carries an on-board physician employed by the ship, vicarious liability attaches to the shipowner for the physician’s negligence. Vicarious liability can also attach when the shipowner engages the services of on-shore physicians. Liability does not attach, however, when the seaman selects his own physician. Further, when a shipowner merely refers the seaman to a negligent physician, vicarious liability may not attach because of the lack of an agency-based relationship. Here, Claimant’s physicians were emergency physicians who responded to a 911 call.
Plaintiff made an interesting argument trying to link the 911 call to vicarious liability. He argued that the employer “constructively selected [the allegedly negligent physicians] by instituting a written emergency response policy that instructs the employees to ‘call 911 first.’” The Fourth Circuit stated that, while “it is a close question, we conclude that the existence of the ‘call 911 first’ policy alone is insufficient as a matter of law to determine that [the employer] selected or otherwise engaged [the allegedly negligent physicians]….” Instead, the ‘call 911 first’ policy was “the equivalent of providing each employee with a list of every medical provider in the region,” as opposed to identifying a physician employed, selected or engaged by the employer.