Manager’s insight: Contract workers with temporary or transitory connections to seafaring vessels don’t typically qualify as seamen under the federal Jones Act, which allows bona fide seamen to sue their employers for personal injury damages if they’re hurt on the job.
What happened: A shore-based welder working aboard a jacked-up drilling rig suffered a severe injury.
Legal challenge: The welder sued his employer under the Jones Act, seeking personal injury damages.
The employer argued that the welder wasn’t a seaman, and thus he wasn’t eligible to sue under the Jones Act because he was a contract worker assigned to the drilling rig for a short period of time.
However, the welder pointed to a legal precedent that allows land-based workers to sometimes be classified as seamen if they worked on a vessel that was docked or anchored at a pier.
Result: The employer won.
The judge determined that the welder didn’t qualify as a seaman under the law because much of his work aboard the rig didn’t actually take him out to sea and because he didn’t continue to sail with the vessel once he finished his welding assignment.
The skinny: This ruling will make it less likely that contract workers or craftsmen with temporary or limited-scope assignments on seafaring vessels who get hurt on the job will be able to successfully pursue lawsuits for personal injury damages under the Jones Act.
Citation: Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC, U.S. Court of Appeals 5, No. 19-20506, 5/11/21.
(From the July 6, 2021, issue of Transportation Manager’s Dispatch. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)