Future Lost Wages Based on Statistical Work-Life Expectancy

A rigger on a crane barge was injured when he fell from a makeshift scaffolding.  He sued the vessel owner for negligence under the Jones Act, as well as his employer for cure (the cost of a back surgery) under general maritime law.  After a bench trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the Court entered a judgment against the vessel owner and the employer.  Both appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit.

The vessel owner alleged several errors on appeal, including the calculation of future lost wages.  The Court held that future lost wages must be based upon a seaman’s statistical average work-life expectancy unless there was evidence that a particular person, by virtue of health or occupation, was likely to live and work shorter or longer than average.  In assigning future lost wages, the District Court simply adopted an age somewhere in the middle of the high and low work-life expectancies presented by the two expert economists.  Because there was no evidence that the plaintiff might live and work longer than average, the Fifth Circuit applied the statistical retirement age presented by the plaintiff’s expert, thus reducing future lost wages by nearly $100,000.00.

The Court also affirmed the employer’s responsibility for payment of the lumbar laminectomy and fusion surgery.  The employer’s physician contested the medical necessity of the surgery, but the Court found the procedure relieved the plaintiff’s pain and was therefore curative in nature and required under the employer’s maintenance and cure obligations.

Barto v. Shore Construction

Statute of Limitations in Maritime Cases not Limited to Vessels Engaged in Commerce

Plaintiff was injured while aboard Defendant’s pleasure yacht on October 25, 2011.  On January 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed a negligence based lawsuit in federal court in Florida.  Defendant then filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the statute of limitations for a maritime tort barred the claim.  Plaintiff argued that the maritime statute of limitation did not apply because his case was not maritime in nature since he was aboard a pleasure yacht rather than a seagoing vessel.

The court found that Defendant satisfied both the locality and nexus tests, and because admiralty jurisdiction was established, the three year statute of limitation under 46 U.S.C. § 30106 attached.  The court held that although certain vessels are excluded from certain limits on liability, the definition of ‘vessel’ in maritime law was not limited to those engaged in commerce.  Defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted.

Parker v. Darby

Maritime Worker Not Entitled to Damages under 905(b) or Warranty of Seaworthiness

Section 905(b) of the LHWCA permits an injured maritime worker to bring suit against a vessel owner for negligence. In Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, the United States Supreme Court annunciated that a vessel owner owes three narrow duties to a maritime worker for purposes of 905(b). These duties include the: (1) turnover duty, (2) active control duty, and (3) duty to intervene.

In Willis v. McDonough Marine Service, the Plaintiff was injured when he tripped and fell on a temporary stair set that was used to access an offshore module from a barge. He subsequently filed a 905(b) action against the barge owner and bareboat charterer. In addition, plaintiff sought an unseaworthiness remedy on the grounds that he was a “Sieracki seaman.” The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that they did not breach the Scindia duties as a matter of law because they were not responsible for the placement of the stair set on the barge. They further contended that plaintiff was barred from an unseaworthiness remedy because he was a covered by the LHWCA.

The Eastern District of Louisiana held that the owner and bareboat charterer did not breach the Scindia duties because the defendants did not place the stair set on the barge and were not responsible for keeping it in a safe condition. The court also noted that the “active control duty” did not come into play because the barge was turned over to plaintiff’s employer, which was not a party to the case. Finally, the defendants did not owe a “duty to intervene” because there was no evidence that they had actual knowledge of the stair set’s placement on the barge.

The court also held that the plaintiff satisfied the status and situs tests for LHWCA coverage and, therefore, could not seek damages for unseaworthiness as a “Sieracki seaman.” While “Sieracki seamen” are entitled to an unseaworthiness remedy, the court explained that this is narrow class of persons who are excluded from coverage by the LHWCA and perform traditional seaman’s duties aboard vessels.  The court further opined that an unseaworthiness remedy would not have been available because the temporary stair set did not constitute an appurtenance to the barge.

Willis v. McDonough Marine Service

11th Circuit Addresses Maritime Salvage Case Arising out of Marina Fire

Under the law of salvage in general maritime law, a person who recovers another person’s ship or cargo after peril or loss at sea is entitled to a reward commensurate with the value of the property saved.  The essential elements of a salvage claim are: (1) A maritime peril from which the ship or other property could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance, (2) A voluntary act by the salvor ­– that is, he must be under no official or legal duty to render assistance, and (3) Success in saving, or helping to save at least part of the property at risk. Klein v. Unidentified Wrecked, etc., Vessel.  Regarding the first element, a maritime peril does not exist where the “vessel has the situation under control,” however, all that is necessary is that there be a “reasonable apprehension of peril.” Fine v. Rockwood.

In Biscayne Towing & Salvage, Inc. v. M/Y Backstage, a yacht at a marina caught fire and spread to other vessels. A towboat on the scene pulled one vessel out of its slip at the request of the fire department to create a firebreak.  The owner of next yacht in line, the M/Y BACKSTAGE, wanted to move his vessel but was prevented from doing so by the fire department. The vessel sustained extensive heat damage as a result.

The towing company filed a maritime salvage claim against the M/Y BACKSTAGE and its owner. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the M/Y BACKSTAGE, dismissing the complaint because “[the claimant] rendered indirect benefit to a vessel not in need of assistance.”  The towing company appealed.  On appeal, the U.S. 11th Circuit reversed, finding that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether or not the M/Y BACKSTAGE “could not have been rescued without the salvor’s assistance.” The court reserved resolution of “the purely legal question whether the existence of a maritime peril has a ‘needs-assistance’ component” as the defendant asserted.

Biscayne Towing & Salvage, Inc. v. M/Y Backstage