On August 5, 2015, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Glaze v. Higman Barge Lines Inc. The court was asked to review the grant of summary judgment in favor of Higman on the Plaintiff’s Jones Act, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure claims. The Plaintiff, who worked for Higman as a relief captain for approximately four years, alleged injury as a result of maintenance he performed on one of Higman’s vessels. He claimed that he was instructed to perform a task in the absence of a job safety analysis and that these unsafe work methods rendered the vessel unseaworthy. The district court granted summary judgment on all Plaintiffs’ claims and he appealed.
On appeal, The Fifth Circuit first analyzed the Plaintiff’s Jones Act claim and determined that is was without merit. The Court ruled that the Captain’s alleged failure to conduct a job safety analysis did not establish a violation of the standard of care. Further, although a company safety manual can inform what constitutes ordinary prudence, it does not itself create a legal duty. The task that the Plaintiff was performing—grinding and stripping rust with a needle gun—was a routine task and the Fifth Circuit had previously held that failure to perform a job safety analysis on a routine task is not breach of duty. The Plaintiff was an experienced seamen of forty years and admittedly knew how to use a needle gun and failed to controvert testimony that he himself trained at least one other crew member on how to use a needle gun to chip rust.
The Fifth Circuit also affirmed the grant of summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim. The basis of Plaintiff’s claim for unseaworthiness was the failure of the Captain to perform a job safety analysis, that the ship did not have safe housekeeping measures, and that the plaintiff was required to perform this task only one month before the vessel entered dry dock for maintenance. The Fifth Circuit held that a Captain’s failure to conduct a job safety analysis, even if negligent, did not give rise to an unseaworthiness claim. The Court further found that there was no support for the Plaintiff’s claim of unsafe work methods. Plaintiff presented no evidence that the needle gun was working improperly or that its use or the vessel was unsafe. Also, the fact that the vessel was set to undergo routine maintenance in dry dock failed to demonstrate that the vessel or any appurtenance thereto was unfit for its intended purpose or that the crew was inadequate, understaffed, or ill trained.
Addressing the Plaintiff’s maintenance and cure claim, the Court found that there was no evidence that the Plaintiff was injured while working on the vessel except for his lawsuit. Further the Plaintiff did not report an injury to his employer until the suit was filed and he previously told his physicians from who he had sought treatment for his pain that he had not been injured. The vessel logs did not reflect that any chipping work was done on the day the Plaintiff claimed that he was injured. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer, Higman.
Glaze v. Higman Barge Lines, Inc.