A pro se plaintiff was hired by an independent contractor for BP America, Inc., to work as a boat hand, installing, inspecting and maintaining floating booms in the waters of Orange Beach, Alabama. The plaintiff received forty hours of hazwoper training before going to work. Three days later, while checking and deploying floating booms, the plaintiff fell overboard. He returned to the boat and continued working without seeking medical attention. Nonetheless, his employment was terminated by the independent contractor for being an “unsafe and problem employee.” Later, the plaintiff filed a suit for negligence under the Jones Act, maintenance and cure, and unseaworthiness. He filed against BP.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to BP. Employment is an essential element of a Jones Act and maintenance and cure claim. The plaintiff bore the burden of probing that BP was his employer. He could not do so. Among other things, BP had no control over the plaintiff’s work as he was employed by an independent contractor.
The Eleventh Circuit also rejected the plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim. Under general maritime law, a shipowner has an absolute duty to furnish a seaworthy ship. A seaman who is injured because of an unseaworthy condition on a ship has a right of recovery against the owner of the vessel beyond maintenance and cure. Here, there was no evidence demonstrating that BP owned the boat that the plaintiff fell from, or that there was an unsafe condition from the boat. The only “evidence” that the plaintiff submitted was a self-serving and conclusory affidavit. That was not enough.