Jones Act Case Study: Scott Walter Maziar

Case Name: Scott Walter Maziar v. State of Washington and Department of Corrections
Date Decided: August 25, 2009
Court: Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2
Judge: Judge Armstrong
Citation: 2009 WL 2602300 (Wash.App.Div.2)

Background:
Petitioner, Scott Walter Mazier (“Mazier”) brought federal maritime tort claims against his employer the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) for injuries sustained during his commute from McNeil Island on a DOC-run Ferry.

The trial court granted DOC’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing his claims, ruling that the Industrial Insurance Act, title 51 RCW precluded his federal maritime claim.

Issue:
Did the trial court err in granting DOC’s motion for summary judgment ruling that Maziar’s claim was precluded by state law and DOC’s sovereign immunity?

Held:
Maziar argued that title 51 RCW did not preclude his maritime claim because it expressly excludes, from IIA coverage, a plaintiff “for whom a right … exists under the maritime law. Maziar also contended that federal maritime law controls over any state workers’ compensation laws and that the DOC is not immune to suit under Sovereign Immunity.

First, this Court considered whether the IIA bars his federal maritime claims. The DOC argued that the matter was “purely local concern” and therefore only subject to the state IIA statute. By enacting the IIA, The legislature abolished all common law civil actions for personal injuries that occur during a worker’s employment and in exchange employers accepted limited liability for claims that might not have been compensable under the common law. DOC argued that because Maziar was an IIA-covered employee at the time of the injury he has no claim for on-the-job injuries. DOC further contended that although Maziar’s case fell under maritime jurisdiction that the matter is of “purely local concern”

The Court held that the state law did not preclude Maziar’s claim under general maritime law because at the time of his injury Maziar was being transported from work which is a pure maritime activity.

Also, the DOC contended that Maziar’s maritime claim is barred by the State’s sovereign immunity. Maziar countered that the State waived its sovereign immunity as to his claim in RCW 4.92.090. RCW 4.92.090 provides that “the state of Washington, whether acting in its governmental or proprietary capacity, shall be liable for damages arising out of its tortious conduct to the same extent as if it were a private person or corporation.”

Accordingly this Court held that the trial court erred in granting DOC’s motion for summary judgment and reversed in favor of Maziar.

Comment:
The big issue here, as in a lot of maritime cases, was a conflict between a state statute and general maritime law.

General maritime law will always be applied unless, there is a federal statute on point or a state law remedy available so long as it does not disrupt the uniformity of general maritime law and governs a matter of “purely local concern”.

Steve Gordon
http://www.offshoreinjuries.com