WHO ARE SEAMEN?
The short answer is that almost anyone who works on the water be they a deckhand on a tug boat or a roustabout on a jack up drilling rig may qualify for seaman status. Given that only seaman are entitled to the protection of the Jones Act and maintenance and cure it will always be worth your time to speak with an experienced maritime attorney to determine your status.
The traditional test for seaman status requires that:
- the person has an employment connection to the vessel that is substantial both in terms of duration and its nature;
- the vessel must be “in navigation”; and
- his employment contributes to the work of the vessel.
The concepts of “seamen”, “vessels” and “in navigation” are given liberal interpretations. That is to say that almost anything that travels or sits on water might be a vessel. Any body of water connecting to navigable waters may qualify including creeks, ditches and marsh. A drilling rig stationary for several years can be “in navigation” for seaman purposes.
The burden of proving seaman status is on the party claiming benefits therefrom. Generally the burden will be on the injured offshore worker.
Early Courts recognized “seaman” status only for workers whose shipboard duties aided in the navigation or contributed to the transportation function of the vessel, those who “reefed and steered”. Later decisions recognized that engineering and steward department personnel were “seamen”, followed by cases which held that other workers assigned to a vessel whose employment contributed to the function of the vessel were “seamen”. These include (but are not limited to):
- Hairdressers on passenger ships
- Bartenders on passenger ships
- Roustabouts on floating drilling rigs.
Recently the United States Supreme Court established a broader test: the worker’s duties need only contribute to the function of the vessel or contribute to the accomplishment of its mission. Accordingly today almost any worker who performs duties on board a vessel which aid the mission of the vessel will be considered a seaman, if the vessel is considered a “vessel”, is “in navigation” on navigable waters, and at least 30% of the worker’s regular duties are on board the vessel.
DIVERS AS SEAMEN
The law is clear that the function of a diver support vessel is transporting and tending divers. Divers who assist in tying up and unmooring the vessel and tending divers when they were not themselves diving are seamen, and, further, divers are seamen when they are diving. It is equally clear that most individual’s employed in offshore oil production qualify as seamen. Individual’s employed as deckhands, masters, mates, engineers, etc. on traditional vessels are clearly seamen.
Your log book or other documentary evidence of time worked offshore is your best evidence in establishing seaman status. Other documents such as vessel logs, safety meeting reports, daily work sheets and other day to day documentation of work offshore are usually in the possession of your employer and can be obtained through the legal process.
YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
It is important to note that to bring suit under the Jones Act does not require that your injury occur offshore. Delise and Hall have successfully litigated cases in which the seaman was injured in a vehicle on the way home from the job, repairing the company owner’s private home, working in the land based shop and other non maritime locales. In a case tried in Federal Court in Connecticut Delise and Hall won seaman status for a diver injured while diving from the back of a pickup truck in a 42” sewer over 2 miles from the nearest body of navigable water. In that case Bobby Delise and Alton Hall argued that even though the diver had never done an offshore job for that employer, when hired he was assigned to a vessel being fitted out for sea service and the intent was that upon completion of the land based sewer job he was to be sent offshore. The Judge and jury agreed rendering a decision in favor of the injured diver.
No matter the circumstances of your injury if you think you may qualify for seaman status it is well worth your time to speak with our attorneys. All consultations are confidential and free.