The issue of who is a Jones Act seaman so far as US nationals are concerned is governed by the decision reached in the United States Supreme Court case of Chandris Inc. v Latsis (“Chandris”) 515 US 347 (1995) which set out a two pronged test for determining whether or not an employee enjoyed seaman status:
The Function and Mission of the Vessel Test.
The court highlights which are the reasons for a seaman to be 'protected' by the Jones Act, for the specific case.
Mr Stuart Crozier, syndicate associate in Americas Syndicate, firstly explained what the situation is.
The plaintiff worked as a cook for Bailey's Support Services, Inc., located on an oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico, owned by W&T Offshore Inc (“W&T”). While conducting operations, he fell on a wet galley floor. The plaintiff alleged that the fall caused severe injuries, and the injuries were a result of the negligence of W&T.
He supported during the court that the oil platform constituted a vessel, therefore he was under the Jones Act, on the basis that he was a 'seaman'.
On the contrary, W&T issued a motion for partial summary judgment in respect of the plaintiff's Jones Act and general maritime law claims arguing that the worker wasn't a Jones Act seaman because the oil platform was not a vessel.
Secondly, the plaintiff’s unseaworthiness claim brought under the general maritime law should fail because unseaworthiness claims relate to a vessel and the oil platform was not a vessel.
The plaintiff's negligence claim brought under general maritime law should fail because the plaintiff could not show a maritime situs or a connection to a traditional maritime activity.
Continuing, the plaintiff stated that because he was previously working on other vessels prior to being assigned to the oil platform he had attained Jones Act status.
The plaintiff had worked aboard four vessels, which were owned by three different companies, prior to his assignment to the oil platform but argued that time served should be taken into consideration when assessing his status as a Jones Act seaman.
Hearing the above, the Court decided:
The Court defined a vessel as every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water. The oil platform is not a vessel. In which case, the plaintiff was not injured aboard a vessel and his claims against W&T for negligence under the Jones Act must fail.
Also, the Court looked at the case of Mendez v Anadarko Petroleum Co 568 US 1142, where the Fifth Circuit determined that an oil platform that was permanently moored by six mooring lines and attached to anchors embedded into the sea floor was not a vessel.
As the platform on which the plaintiff was working when he was injured was permanently affixed to the sea floor the Court concluded that the oil platform was not a vessel.
W&T argued that although the plaintiff worked on vessels, from the time they began working on an oil platform, the Jones Act ended.
Moreover, the Court considered the Chandris test, referred in the beginning, and as the oil platform is not considered a vessel, the plaintiff was not protected from the Jones Act, therefore the plaintiff could not be a seaman.
The District Court agreed that as per Fifth Circuit precedent for a valid argument of unseaworthiness there requires the existence of a vessel. The Court had already found that the oil platform was not considered a vessel but a fixed platform.
W&T argued the plaintiff's negligence claim brought under the general maritime law must fail because the plaintiff could not meet the two requirements for a tort claim in admiralty:
- Situs (or location test) – the tort occurred on navigable water or that the injury on land was caused by a vessel on navigable water; and
- Connection to a traditional maritime activity - the incident had a ‘potentially disruptive effect on maritime commerce’ and that the activity giving rise to the incident has a ‘substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity’.
The District Court agreed with W&T that work on a fixed offshore platform bears no significant relation to traditional maritime activity.
Therefore, W&T was entitled to summary judgment in its favour on each of the claims brought under the Jones Act, seaworthiness obligations and general tortious maritime law.