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

We recently wrote about requirements for Jones Act Claims surrounding maritime workplace injuries. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which hears appeals from U.S. District Courts in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, recently offered some additional clarification on when employers may be held liable for employee injuries at sea.

The court heard a case involving two men who were both working aboard a drilling company's rig - one as a driller and one as a crane operator. The driller had accidentally brought a firearm on board in his bags, which violated the company's policy prohibiting firearms on board. He discovered that he had brought it on board while doing his laundry but failed to report it, another violation of company policy.

One night he was the only crewman on duty, performing tasks that could be done in the employee break room. The crane operator was not on duty but was also in the break room. The two men were talking and began to discuss firearms. The driller left to retrieve his gun from his room, believing that the other man might be interested in purchasing one. As he returned and sat down, he bumped his arm and the firearm fired by accident, killing the crane operator.

The crane operator's wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company under the Jones Act. The court in the Eastern District of Louisiana awarded her a substantial amount of money. The company appealed this ruling, however, saying that neither man was acting in the course of his employment when the accident happened.

Next week we'll discuss what the Court of Appeals decided, their reasoning and how it affects Jones Act claimants in Louisiana.

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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