Last week, Louisiana’s Third Circuit published a Jones Act decision wherein it affirmed the lower court’s decision that Plaintiff failed to carry his burden of proof that he was a Jones Act seaman. Plaintiff began working for his employer in a land-based warehouse, but he expressed interest in offshore work. Soon thereafter, Plaintiff began working as a helper on a platform fixed to the outer continental shelf; but he ate, slept, and used the restroom facilities on a vessel called the RAM VII. Plaintiff was injured when a Teflon pipe weighing two-and-a-half pounds struck him in the face. Plaintiff then filed a petition for damages wherein he alleged entitlement to compensation based on his status as a seaman under the Jones Act. The trial court disagreed.
On appeal, Louisiana’s Third Circuit discussed Chandris, and the Supreme Court’s test for seaman status. Essentially, Plaintiff complained that the “trial court incorrectly based its finding that he failed to carry his burden to prove that he was a Jones Act seaman solely based upon how much time he physically spent on a vessel.” The appellate court disagreed:
Our review of the record does not indicate that the trial court found [Plaintiff] was not a seaman based solely because he was not working on the RAM VII 50% of the time. Rather, it is clear that the trial court determined that [Plaintiff] was not credible and, as such, it did not give credence to his assertion that he spent 50% of his time working on the RAM VII. The trial court then cited testimony contrary to [Plaintiff's] assertion that he spent 50% of his time physically on the RAM VII.
In essence, the trial court did not believe Plaintiff’s allegations that he spent 50% of his time on a vessel. Because the Supreme Court’s Chandris test requires consideration of the amount of time a seaman is on a vessel, Plaintiff’s lack of credibility was fatal to his claim.
But that’s not all. The appellate court also discussed the evidence that refuted Plaintiff’s claims that he was a seaman. The court cited testimony of a former employee, a present employee, and the employer’s safety manager. The testimony refuted Plaintiff’s allegations that he worked 50% of the time on the RAM VII. Indeed, “[t]he summation of the witness testimony can reasonably be interpreted that [Plaintiff's] connection to the RAM VII was tenuous and, therefore, not substantial in duration or nature as required by the second prong of the Chandris test.” Accordingly, Plaintiff was not a seaman and the trial court did not err.