The seaman was hurt while feeding a mooring line over the side of the ROSS CANDIES. He felt pain in his abdomen around the site of a prior hernia repair. He later discovered that the surgical mesh that had been installed had dislodged. He had a second hernia surgery after the incident in question to fix it.
Notably, after both of his hernia surgeries, the surgeon told the seamen not to lift more than 40 pounds. The seaman admitted to not complying with the 40-pound restriction after his first surgery. He did comply with the restriction after the post-incident surgery and had no problems.
The seaman filed a lawsuit against Otto Candies asserting negligence and unseaworthiness claims under the Jones Act and general maritime law. Otto Candies paid for the second hernia surgery because it was required to do so under its maintenance-and-cure obligation. However, Otto Candies disputed it was liable for negligence and unseaworthiness.
Otto Candies filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit because it believed there was no factual basis to support the seaman’s unseaworthiness and negligence claims. The court agreed with Otto Candies and dismissed the lawsuit.
The seaman claimed the ROSS CANDIES was undermanned and thus unseaworthy as a matter of law. To support this position, the seaman pointed to the vessel captain’s initial injury report, which stated that the incident was due to the vessel being undermanned and the substantial size of the vessel. Otto Candies countered this argument by showing the Coast Guard approved the out-of-service vessel’s use of a four-person crew (and the vessel had five crew members during the incident).
The seaman alleged that Otto Candies and its employees negligence caused his injury and hired a safety expert to support this theory. The seaman claimed that had the vessel captain woken up an additional crew member to help him pull the mooring line, he would not have been injured. Otto Candies countered this position by pointing to the seaman’s deposition testimony stating that there was nothing wrong with the ROSS CANDIES and that neither the captain nor crew did anything wrong that contributed to his injury.
In effort to avoid getting his case dismissed, the seaman pointed to the accident report stating the vessel being undermanned caused the incident. While the captain crawfished from the report in his deposition, the seaman argued that the report alone was sufficient to justify the court not dismissing his lawsuit. The court dismissed the lawsuit notwithstanding the accident report.
The court found the seaman’s deposition testimony negated his claims against Otto Candies and cited the seaman's testimony its decision to do so. For example, the seaman testified that “I felt confident enough I had moved the vessel, I didn't feel I needed any help.” When asked whether he had made any attempts to ask for help the seaman stated “I did not” and stated “[d]idn’t feel like I needed it. I felt confident.” When asked who he would have asked for help had he needed it, the seaman responded:
“I would have told the captain, ‘Go wake somebody else up, or call somebody.’ I would just say, ‘Hold the vessel there,’ and I would go wake somebody up. But I didn’t feel like I needed that, I was confident. We had moved the vessel, I didn’t feel like I needed any help.”
The seaman also responded in the affirmative when asked whether the mooring task was a job fit for one person. Regarding his allegations of negligence, the seaman conceded that the crew followed “normal procedure” and acknowledged that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the captain or crew. When asked if the captain did anything wrong, the seaman testified, “No, I think he’s just – he was doing his job. He was up there running the vessel just like he was supposed to be.”
The court pointed to the above testimony and dismissed the seaman’s lawsuit.
A publicly available link to the decision can be viewed through the following link: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCOURTS-laed-2_21-cv-01431/pdf/USCOURTS-laed-2_21-cv-01431-0.pdf
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