Via a contract with a staffing company, Claimant became employed by a catering company, and was assigned to work as a part of the galley/cooking staff. Claimant alleged that he was injured aboard a vessel while working for the catering company, and he filed Jones Act negligence claims against both parties and their insurers. Subsequently, insurance and indemnification disputes developed between the defendants and their insurers, which were rooted in the issue of whether Claimant was a Jones Act seaman. The trial court, ruling on motions and cross-motions for summary judgment, found that Claimant was a Jones Act seaman, and concluded that the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act was inapplicable; therefore, the catering company was required to defend and indemnify the staffing company. The defendants later settled with Claimant, and a Joint Motion and Order of Dismissal was granted. Appellants now argued that the trial court erred in granting the motions for summary judgment on the issues of Jones Act seaman status, indemnity and defense against the catering company.
The court looked to the Chandris test for seaman status, which asks 1) whether the employee’s duties contributed to the function of the vessel or accomplishment of its mission; and 2) whether that employee had a connection to a vessel in navigation which was substantial both in terms of duration and nature. Chandris, Inc. v. Lastis, 515 U.S. 347, 368 (1995). The parties did not dispute the first element, as Claimant was employed as a cook on a quarters barge, and was also responsible for cleaning the barge.
Appellants challenged Claimant’s connection to the vessel, arguing that because Claimant was randomly assigned to work for various customers, he did not have an employment connection to a particular vessel or fleet of vessels under common ownership. They further maintained that while some of claimant’s assignments were to vessels, some were to fixed platforms. The court noted that under Parker v. Jackup Boat Service, LLC, 542 F.Supp.2d 481 (E.D. La. 2008), “merely being ‘subject to reassignment [to a non-seaman role or status] … at some point later in time is of no moment’ and does not in itself defeat a worker’s seaman status.” Id. at *4. Further, seaman status cannot be denied due to the nature of third-party contracting for a vessel’s operation or the manner in which work is assigned by a third party. Bertrand v. Int’l Moring & Marine, Inc., 700 F.2d 240 (5th Cir. 1983).
Here, the court ruled that summary judgment on seaman status should not have been granted due to conflicting evidence on the connection issue, including the fact that the president of the catering company testified that Claimant worked for defendant for 153 days at seven different job sites, and worked with five of the company’s customers. Further, Claimant could not recall where most of his assignments took place, but they included a mix of dive boats, drilling ships, and platforms. An employee of the staffing company, however, testified that Claimant was assigned to a vessel or identifiable fleet of vessels. The court also found there were genuine issues of material fact regarding satisfaction of the duration element, because of similar discrepancies in the testimony with regard to where and how Claimant spent his time while employed by the catering company.
Becnel v. Chet Morrison, Inc., No. 2010-CA-1411 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/31/11); — So. 3d —-, 2011 WL 3853115.
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)