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.
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 navigable waters?
- 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.
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.
Introducing The Doan Law Firm
Learn about what motivates Attorney Jimmy Doan.
Get to Know Jimmy Doan
Learn about Attorney Jimmy Doan's background and ...