The Jones Act seaman Darryl Cole filed a maritime personal injury case against Oceaneering International, Inc, seeking damages after suffering a stroke in February 2021 while working as a crane operator aboard an Oceaneering vessel. Cole alleges that his stroke was caused by a delay in care due to the misdiagnosis by Oceaneering’s onboard medic, Keith Thompson. Cole’s direct employer Huisman North American Services, LLC was also brought into the suit. It filed a claim against Dr. Robert Davis and the company he worked for because they were contracted to provide remote medical assistance to the vessel. They alleged that Dr. Davis played a role in the misdiagnosis and was responsible for the injuries.
Dr. Davis moved to dismiss the claim against him arguing the claims fell outside the court’s admiralty jurisdiction and are governed by Louisiana law or, alternatively, that the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act applies through supplementation. Dr. Davis argued that, under either scenario, the claims against him were premature for failure to convene a medical review panel and should be dismissed without prejudice.
Huisman argued that Dr. Davis’ motion to dismiss should be denied because its claim against the doctor fell within the Court’s admiralty jurisdiction. Huisman argued that the maritime locus requirement for admiralty jurisdiction is clearly met because the seaman suffered a stroke aboard Oceaneering’s vessel and no part of the seaman’s treatment occurred on land. Huisman also argued that the two requirements for meeting the maritime nexus test were met because the seaman’s alleged misdiagnosis caused an actual interruption of maritime commerce and because providing medical services to crew members aboard a vessel in navigable waters bears a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity.
The seaman likewise opposed Dr. Davis’ motion to dismiss. First, the seaman noted that “To date, whether Dr. Davis did anything wrong is questionable. The evidence thus far indicates that the medic, Keith Thompson, is the primary reason that Plaintiff was not given emergency treatment sooner, thereby causing the major deterioration of Plaintiff’s condition.” The seaman argued that Oceaneering is vicariously liable for negligence of the medical professionals it chose to treat its crewmembers, such that it does not matter whether Dr. Davis is involved in this case as a direct defendant. The seaman, however opposed the motion to the extent that Dr. Davis asserts that the court lacks maritime jurisdiction such that the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act should supplant or supplement maritime law.
The court denied Dr. Davis’s motion to dismiss and held that the claims against him fell within the court’s admiralty jurisdiction. First, the location requirement was satisfied because the seaman was on navigable waters when Dr. Davis rendered the treatment in question. The fact that Dr. Davis was on land while doing so was immaterial. Second, the connection test was also met because the court found that the misdiagnosis of a crewmember aboard a vessel at sea by the vessel’s physician and onboard medic can, and, and in fact did, have an impact on maritime commerce.
The court also rejected Dr. Davis’s alternative request to supplement maritime law with the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act. The court found that there is a national interest in uniformity of law and remedies for seaman who seek medical treatment while at sea. Subjecting these types of claims to the law of whatever state in which the onshore physician happens to be located at the time of consultation, could result in inconsistent, and even contradictory, results depending upon the location of the onshore physician.
A publicly available copy of the decision can be accessed through the following link: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCOURTS-laed-2_21-cv-01348/pdf/USCOURTS-laed-2_21-cv-01348-6.pdf
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