Plaintiff worked on a ferry boat operated by the State of Louisiana, Department of Transportation and Development. On August 1, 2007, she slipped and sustained injuries while cleaning an oil leak the vessel’s engine room. After Plaintiff filed a Jones Act suit against the State, the State moved for summary judgment on the issue of causation, arguing that Plaintiff’s own negligence was the sole of her injury. In response, Plaintiff filed her own motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, arguing that the State’s vessel was unseaworthy and that the State was negligent in failing to repair the vessel. The trial court agreed with Plaintiff and the State appealed.
Louisiana’s Third Circuit first addressed causation. The State argued that Plaintiff could not prove causation because, “while cleaning the oil with soap and water, she herself created the condition which caused her injury.” The Third Circuit recognized that a seaman need only present “slight evidence” that her injuries were caused by her employer’s negligence in order to reach the jury (and avoid summary judgment). Here, Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to avoid summary judgment:
In a transcript attached to her opposition to the State’s summary judgment motion, Ms. Thibodeaux testified that she had not yet mopped the portion of the floor on which she slipped. She further testified that she was cleaning according to operational instructions. In contrast, the State alleges she created the condition of soapy water mixed with oil through her own act of mopping. Therefore, there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to causation.
As for liability, the Third Circuit determined that summary judgment should not have been granted in Plaintiff’s favor. Plaintiff submitted that the vessel’s engine leaked oil, that its propeller shaft leaked water, and that the vessel had “poor flooring conditions.” But the “presence of oil does not satisfy the legal standard for demonstrating Jones Act negligence as set forth above.” Here, the jury must determine whether the dangerous condition was caused by the State’s negligence, or whether, as the State argued, Plaintiff caused the dangerous condition herself.
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)