Recent Maritime Decision Addresses Whether Overworked Seamen Can Recover under the Jones Act

Much attention has been drawn to the recent truck accident involving several comedians. The truck driver claimed that he had been awake for over 24 hours for his job. Due to the media attention surrounding the fatal and catastrophic accident, much attention has been given to the trucking industry and the regulations that govern drivers. But what if you're a seaman in the state of Washington? A recent Federal Court of Appeals admiralty law decision discussed whether a seaman could recover under the Jones Act after he injured himself as a result of an erratic sleep schedule and working long hours. While in a different federal circuit, the case shines a light on what can be successfully pursued under the Jones Act.

In recently published Skye v. Maersk Line, the chief mate suffered from left ventricular hypertrophy (or thickening of the heart wall) and filed suit against his commercial vessel employer, claiming the hypertrophy was the result of excessive work requirements imposed upon him. At trial, the seaman was awarded a total amount over half a million dollars. The employer appealed, claiming that the award was not possible under the Jones Act, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The seaman had been diagnosed with benign arrhythmia and was ordered by his doctor to change his diet and rest more. The diagnosis continued for another three years, and then the seaman faced longer hours at work for the next four years after rising to a management position. Part of his arduous duties included logging in hazardous material cargo for several hours at a time, insuring cargo was cold, repairing cargo container holders, and inspecting the hull. This physically demanding work caught up with the seaman, and he began to experience headaches, a sore back, and a burning sensation in his heart. The seaman's cardiologist then diagnosed him with the left ventricular hypertrophy.

The Court of Appeals assessed the origins of the Jones Act, which was created to provide seamen with legal relief who are injured in the course of their employment as a result of their employer's negligence. In order to recover, the seaman must be threatened with physical impact. The Court of Appeals ultimately determined that "work-related stress" is not the same as a seaman experiencing injury as a result of physical peril. The 9th Circuit particularly looked at the distinction made in prior Supreme Court decisions between irregular sleep and arduous work versus physical perils. The Court of Appeals reasoned that, even if there are physical effects that are the result of the work environment, that is not enough to qualify for recovery under the Jones Act.

The Washington Jones Act attorneys, Gordon Webb and John Merriam, have the legal knowledge and understanding you need to successfully litigate your personal injury claim as a seaman. Their combined 50+ years of experience in both maritime law and work at sea make them uniquely qualified to structure and pursue your claim to maximize recovery. If you have been injured or fallen ill while working onboard a commercial vessel, contact our office today to learn what course of action is best suited for your individual situation at 877.800.1007.

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