Claimant worked as an operator/deck hand for Employer for approximately eight months, when in February 2013, he suffered a partial amputation of his right thumb at work. Claimant required two surgeries for his thumb injury, and he timely received benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. In May 2013, Claimant filed suit against Employer for money damages under the Jones Act claiming he qualified for status as a Jones Act seaman under 46 U.S.C.A. § 30104. Employer terminated Claimant’s Longshore benefits and began paying maintenance and cure under the provisions of the Jones Act. On December 6, 2013, Employer filed a Motion for Summary Judgment that Claimant was not a Jones Act seaman. The trial court granted the Motion for Summary Judgment. Claimant appealed to the Louisiana State Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit arguing the trial court misapplied Article 966.
Claimant’s work duties included both on-the-shore and “on the water” activities. He testified at his deposition that he spent 30-40% of his work time on the shore loading fertilizer onto trucks for delivery from Employer’s warehouse facility, and in the Biloxi-Gulfport area using an excavator to move sand to Employer’s port facility. Claimant spent the remaining 60-70% of the time working for Employer “on the water” on a floating, fixed platform in the Red River. The work platform was tied securely to the bottom of the river with pipes and a system of chains and cables. The platform had no navigational functions and was completely fixed in place. An excavator on the platform was used to unload fertilizer from transport barges. The barges were pushed to the work platform by a fleet boat or a line boat. Claimant tied the transport barge to the work platform and unload them. Once unloaded, the transport barge was moved away from the platform using the fleet boat. Claimant never got on Employer’s boat or was attached to a vessel of any kind. The work done by Claimant was accomplished on the work platform, on shore, and occasionally on the transport barges, which is where claimant was working at the time of injury. Claimant had no involvement in moving products on the river. For these reasons, the trial court found that the work platform at issue did not constitute a “vessel,” and Claimant did not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act.
Qualification as a Jones Act seaman required claimant to show (1) that his duties “contributed to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission” and (2) “a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and nature.” The determination of whether a given craft is a vessel is ordinarily resolved as a matter of law, however, fact issues may be presented. 1 U.S.C. § 3 defines “vessel” as a water-craft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water (either practically possible or merely theoretical). A watercraft is not capable of being used for maritime transport in any meaningful sense if it has been permanently moored or otherwise rendered practically incapable of transportation or movement. From a practical standpoint, it must be designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water and subject to the peril of navigation to which craft used for transportation are exposed.
Similarly, the work platform in question was moored in place with no movement since 2010, it was secured by two pipes deeply embedded in the river, it had no United States Coast Guard documentation, it had no independent means of propulsion and no raked bow, it could not independently be navigated or be steered, if the work platform were to be moved it would be an extensive process requiring at least two tug boats and five personnel, and the platform had never moved during the time Claimant was employed by Employer. The Third Circuit thus concluded that the work platform where claimant worked 60-70% of the time was not designed to serve a transportation function and did not do so, and it did not qualify as a vessel in navigation for the purpose of allowing Claimant to maintain a Jones Act claim.