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Court clarifies "course of employment" for Jones Act claims: part two

Last week we introduced a case that was recently heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which includes Louisiana. A driller on a drilling rig accidentally shot and killed a fellow employee, a crane operator, while the former was scheduled for duty. The victim's widow sued the company for wrongful death under the Jones Act and a federal court in Louisiana ruled in her favor.

The company appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit, arguing that neither man was "acting in the course of employment" when the accident occurred. The court was asked to resolve the question of whether their discussion in the ship's break room was covered under the Jones Act.

Under the Jones Act and the Federal Employers Liability Act, an employer may be held liable for an employee injury (or, in this case, death) caused by another employee's negligence if both were acting in the course of their employment. The court found that the driller with the gun was acting in the course of his employment because his duties involved being in the break room.

They also held that the crane operator who was shot was also acting in the course of employment because he was on board the vessel and subject to the call off duty when the incident occurred. According to the court, a seaman is acting in the course of employment if he is undertaking some activity to further the employer's business interest. As a result, they found the drilling company was liable for the shooter's negligence.

If you have been injured in the course of maritime employment, you may have a claim for damages under the Jones Act or other federal law. It is wise to consult a personal injury attorney with experience in similar matters who can help you navigate the relevant law and help you pursue any appropriate claims.

Source: The Maritime Executive, "U.S. Fifth Circuit Defines "In The Course of Employment" for Jones Act Cases," Phillip Brickman, Oct. 18, 2012

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