Injured Workers and Maritime Contracts
Due to its jurisdiction over appeals from rulings made in the U.S. District
Courts in the maritime industrial states of Louisiana and Texas, lawyers
will always scrutinize the decisions of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
as they pertain to whether a federal law or a state law should apply in
a given situation. In two recent rulings, the Fifth Circuit has established
a "test" to determine if a contract is a
maritime contract (where federal law applies) or a
non-maritimecontract (where a state law should apply).
In today's post the offshore and maritime injury lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm will discuss the significance of the Fifth Circuit's rulings as they
relate to an injured worker's eligibility for federal Worker's
Compensation benefits under the
Jones Act as well as under the
Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) and its extension by way of the
Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).
Past Maritime Contract Cases
As mentioned above, in order to establish that an injured worker is eligible
for benefits through a federally-monitored program such as the Jones Act
or the LHWCA, it is often necessary to establish that the worker's
duties were performed in a maritime environment. Although the following
cases do not directly involve injured workers, they are still important
in that they establish a definition of "maritime" that may be
used in other matters that may come before the courts in the future.
In re Larry Doiron, Inc.
This case involved a worker who was injured by a crane that was owned and
being operated by a contractor who
was not the injured worker's employer. The contractor argued that under general
maritime law it was protected (indemnified) against an injury claim. The injured worker's employer, of course,
disagreed and claimed that the contractor was fully liable.
The court held that the facts in the case established that general maritime
law should apply and ruled in favor of the contractor.
In its ruling, the court noted that the previously-applied "test"
of maritime status was "unnecessary and unduly complicated…"
Instead, the court held that a simpler "test" could be applied
based on the answer to two questions:
Does the contract provide services to assist drilling or production of
oil and gas on
Do the parties expect that a
vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract? [emphasis added]
If the answer to
both questions was "yes," the court considered the contract to be
a maritime contract and Louisiana law would not apply.
In re Crescent Energy Services, L.L.C.
This case involved a contractor who was to "cap and abandon"
three wells on three fixed platforms in the coastal waters off Louisiana.
During the course of that contract, a contract worker was injured and
the contractor sought compensation from the platforms' owners. The
owner argued that "cap and abandon" was
not an activity in the exploration and production of oil
and that since the injury occurred on a fixed platform the "navigable
waters" part of a maritime definition of a vessel did not apply.
The Fifth Circuit ruled against the owners by holding that "cap and
abandon" could be seen as the final stage of exploration and drilling
and that the fact that the "cap and abandon" operation was conducted
from a vessel that moved under its own power was sufficient to meet the
navigable waters requirement.
Why these cases matter
In the cases presented above, the Fifth Circuit established not so much a
new definition of "maritime" but
clarified how the existing definition was to be applied in deciding if a contract
was essentially maritime in its nature.
"Technically," the rulings of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
are binding only on the federal district courts of that circuit. However,
it is a common practice that if similar issues arise in another district,
the Fifth Circuit's rulings will often be cited as a
precedent (a previous decision that establishes an interpretation of a point of
law) and will be considered in the context of other cases.
Contacting a maritime injury lawyer
Federal law provides programs similar to the Worker's Compensation
programs provided by the states to those workers employed in the maritime
industries. Since the benefits provided under the federal programs are
more "generous" than those of a state, injured workers whose
jobs could be considered maritime-related should always consult a maritime
injury lawyer as soon as possible following an injury.
When selecting a maritime injury lawyer, an injured worker should look for:
- someone who is familiar with both state and federal Worker's Compensation programs
- someone who has a record of success in court cases related to maritime law
someone who will fight for his clients' rights to receive
all the compensation they are entitled to receive
One lawyer who meets the above-suggested selection criteria is the
offshore and maritime injury lawyer at the Doan Law Firm, a nationwide personal injury and Workman's Compensation
law practice with offices located in major cities around the country.
When you contact our office to arrange a review of your potential maritime/offshore
lawsuit, your first consultation with us is always free and does
not place you under any obligation to hire our firm to represent you in court.
If you later decide that we should manage your maritime injury case, we
are willing to assume full responsibility for every aspect of your case
(including financial) in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the
final settlement that we will win for you.