Jones Act Case Study: Eric Taylor v Teco Barge Line, Inc.

Mike Schuler
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April 24, 2009

Case Name: Eric Taylor v Teco Barge Line, Inc.
Date of Judgment: 22nd April 2009
Court: U.S.D.C. – W.D. Kentucky – Paducah Division
Judge: District Judge Russell
Citation: 2009 WL 1098718 (W.D.Ky.)

Background: This matter arose out of an alleged injury suffered by the plaintiff, Eric Taylor, while working as a deckhand. Taylor worked aboard the defendant’s, Teco Barge Line, Inc. (“Teco”) vessel, the M/V Diane Oak.

On or about December 2005, Taylor alleged that he injured his back when the captain of Teco’s vessel ordered him to lift a pump in excess of 150 pounds by himself.  Following Hurricane Katrina, Teco was allegedly rushing the crew to perform their jobs quickly. Taylor stated that he had already lifted three or four pumps and was in the process of lifting another massive pump when he suddenly heard a ‘pop’ in his back.

Taylor filed suit under the Jones Act, alleging negligence, and under general maritime law, alleging unseaworthiness. Teco moved for summary judgment, arguing that the facts did not support the necessary elements of negligence or a claim of unseaworthiness.

Issue: Whether the lower court properly granted summary judgment to Teco for claims of negligence and unseaworthiness.

Held:
Negligence claim: The Court had to determine whether the employer’s negligence played any part, however slight, in producing the injury to the seaman. Here, Teco argued that Taylor did not establish the necessary elements of breach or causation.  Taylor contended that Teco was negligent for failing to provide alternate ways for lifting pumps, that the M/V Diane Oak was understaffed, and therefore, he could not get any help.

The Court found that all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of Taylor. Taylor had presented sufficient evidence to show that a reasonable jury could find for him. Thus, this Court found that summary judgment in favor of Teco was inappropriate.

Unseaworthiness claim: In the present case, Taylor had to show that the unseaworthy condition of the vessel was the substantial cause of his injuries. Taylor argued the M/V Diane Oak was unseaworthy because it was understaffed. Teco contended that Taylor did not show sufficient evidence to show the vessel was understaffed.

The Court held that there was a genuine dispute as to material facts that precluded summary judgment on Taylor’s unseaworthiness claim. Thus, summary judgment for Teco was inappropriate.

Comments:

In order to establish negligence, a plaintiff must show that his employer failed to provide a safe workplace by neglecting to eliminate obvious dangers which the employer knew or should have known about.

Under the unseaworthiness doctrine, there is an absolute duty to maintain a seaworthy ship. This is also called “strict liability.”  However, a vessel does not have to be free from all dangers, as that is categorically impossible. A shipowner must take all precautions to ensure that there are as few hazards as possible.

Steve Gordon
http://www.offshoreinjuries.com

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