An interesting case has been decided as to whether a pleasure yacht captain properly alleged Jones Act seaman status entitling him to seek damages under the federal personal injury statute as well as the maritime law maintenance and cure obligation. The captain started working aboard the private pleasure yacht in 2010 to perform maintenance and repair jobs on the yacht. He was eventually hired to take over the position of the yacht’s captain on a part-time basis in additions to his general maintenance and repair duties. In late 2014, the part-time captain position became full-time. Under the terms of the employment agreement, he was paid a salary of $3,500 per month and lived aboard the yacht. As the yacht’s master, he operated the vessel during moves to Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina for boat shows and prepared the yacht for visits by the owners. On April 25, 2016, while preparing to move the yacht from Hilton Head Island to Charleston, when he fell approximately 7 feet onto the concrete dock and landed on his elbows. Injuries sustained from the fall required multiple surgeries. He was terminated two months later.
An interesting decision was issued from the Federal Middle District of Florida involving a yacht captain’s personal injury lawsuit. In this case, the captain filed a lawsuit in Florida state court asserting claims against his employers for Jones Act negligence, failure to provide him with a seaworthy vessel and failure to providing him with maintenance and cure benefits. As part of the complaint, the seaman also demanded that a jury decide all factual issues. Not wanting to have a state court judge and jury decide the case, the employers filed a declaratory judgment action in Federal court seeking a Federal judge, without a jury, decide whether the seaman waived his right to bring a Jones Act and maintenance and cure claim by signing an employment contract which contains a Marshall Islands law provision. The yacht captain moved to dismiss the Federal declaratory judgment action arguing that the court should not accept jurisdiction and allow the action to proceed in state court.
In July 2010, Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (“CVSSA”); legislation designed to improve the security and safety of passengers aboard cruise ships. Under the CVSSA, vessels are required “to integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers who have fallen overboard, to the extent that such technology is available.” Such requirements were to take effect 18 months after the date of the enactment of the CVSSA on or about January, 2012. To date it is clear that cruise lines have been resistant to implementing man overboard systems. Since the enactment of the CVSSA, there have been approximately 143 persons reported to have fallen overboard from cruise ships. In 2017 alone, there have been 11 reported cases.
The Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have affirmed a trial court’s damages award in a Jones Act seamen’s wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit. The case involved an accident aboard a barge supporting a truck-mounted drilling rig (pictured to the right). On March 9, 2011, crewmembers of the barge were attempting to straighten a catwalk extending from the rig’s derrick which had twisted the night before. While preforming this maneuver, the truck and rig toppled over fatally pinning one crewmember between the derrick and the mud tank. Three other crewmembers sustained personal injuries in the accident.
Although Florida’s boating season lasts practically all year, the traditional start of boating season is marked by National Safe Boating Week in or about the end of May each year. Despite not officially starting yet, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel have reported an increase in calls dealing with incidents out in the water.