Jones Act Case Study: Mark Eldridge v Star Line

Case Name: Mark Eldridge v Star Line
Date of Judgment: 29th May 2009
Court: U.S.D.C. – E.D. Michigan – Northern Division
Judge: District Judge Ludington
Citation: 2009 WL 1513991 (E.D.Mich.)

Background: On November 8, 2007, the plaintiff Mark Eldridge filed a complaint against the defendant Star Line.  The complaint asserted a claim for negligence under the Jones Act.

The plaintiff injured his neck as a result of lifting a flagpole on a dock. A settlement conference was held in April 2009, but the extent of the plaintiff’s neck injuries had to first be ascertained by a neurosurgeon.

On May 7, 2009, the plaintiff filed a motion relating to the arrangements associated with payment for the consultation. The parties agreed that the plaintiff’s primary care physician referred him to a neurosurgeon and that the neurosurgeon required a letter guaranteeing payment for services.

The defendant disagreed with the plaintiff on who must satisfy the neurosurgeon that he will be paid. Both parties have established that St. Paul Travelers Company will indemnify the defendant for expenses paid to the plaintiff.

Defendant argued that its obligation to provide cure does not require it to arrange the plaintiff’s medical care. Rather, the defendant asserted their primary duty was to remit payment for medical care.

Issue: Whether the defendant has the obligation to guarantee payment to the neurosurgeon for its services to the plaintiff.

Held:
Here, the neurosurgeon had requested a letter from the insurer guaranteeing payment as a prerequisite for treatment. Despite the fact that defendant acknowledged it was bound to pay for treatment, it delayed treatment by not providing the guarantee.

Thus, the Court agreed with the plaintiff that the Jones Act imposed a duty on the defendant to take reasonable steps to ensure that the seaman received the proper treatment and care.

Comments:

The Court emphasized the seaman’s right to maintenance and cure. Despite the defendant agreeing to pay the cure, they were still withholding the money. The Court held that it was the defendant’s right to provide money for the treatment, so if the neurosurgeon needed assurance on who would pay, then the defendant must give them the assurance.

Steve Gordon
http://www.offshoreinjuries.com