Confusion exists regarding the applicable duty of a vessel owner to longshore workers in LHWCA Section 905(B) cases. Initially, the courts applied a strict liability unseaworthiness standard. In 1972, Congress took away the longshore workers unseaworthiness claim when it enacted 33 U.S.C.A. § 905(b), and replaced it with a “negligence” action against the vessel. In 1981, in Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156 (1981), the Supreme Court narrowed the vessel’s duty for particular types of § 905(b) cases; namely, those by workers employed by a stevedoring company whose duties involved loading and unloading ships. Instead of applying the Congressional “negligence” standard, the Court created 3, or possibly 6, sub-duties. The lower courts soon began applying the Scindia construct beyond the factual situation in which it arose, often constraining and confusing what should be simple negligence cases.
10:05 AM - 10:35 AM
Maritime Jurisdiction of Contracts – Post-Doiron Developments
The question presented, whether a contract is maritime in nature, has major implications in the law because it is on this basis that many questions of maritime indemnity will be resolved. Both Texas and Louisiana, heavy oil drilling and production states, invalidate offshore indemnity agreements. Due to the amount of oil and gas drilling and production stemming from these states, they also produce a high amount of maritime litigation. However, despite the Texas and Louisiana prohibitions on indemnity agreements, federal law has no such restriction. Thus, the issue of whether a contract is maritime in nature or not becomes highly contested in litigation. If the contract is maritime, then federal law applies and the indemnity provision is allowed. If the contract is not maritime, then state law applies to void the provision. As such, the issue is frequently recurring and of high importance. This has led the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to focus on clarifying the issue.
With its decision in Doiron in 2018, the Fifth Circuit changed the long-standing test used to determine whether a contract was maritime in nature or not. This article will first review the existing state of the law at the time of the Fifth Circuit's 2018 decision, before proceeding to analyze the decision itself, then it will conclude with a synopsis of the law that has developed which interprets that decision
10:40 AM - 11:40 AM
Unanswered Questions on Punitive Damages (Batterton and Aftermath)
This presentation will lay out the development of seamen's remedies, including the roles of Congress and the courts in formulating those remedies before discussing how the Fifth and Ninth Circuits set the state for resolution of punitive damages in seaman's unseaworthiness claims with McBride and Batterton. Finally, the Supreme Courts resolution in Batterton and what comes next. How will the lower courts apply Batterton? What does Batterton mean for seamen trying to recover punitive damages from third parties in negligence actions brought under the general maritime law? And what does the case mean for other maritime workers, or for passengers or pleasure boaters?
11:40 AM - 12:10 PM
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Bench Panel on Recent Developments in Maritime Personal Injury Law
Whether a floating object qualifies as a “vessel” under maritime law has important legal and practical ramifications. For example, a “vessel” can (i) be the basis for maritime jurisdiction, (ii) give rise to Jones Act seaman status for crew members, (iii) be subject to maritime arrest, (iv) be the subject of a limitation of liability act proceeding, and (v) subject a contract to maritime law. While some objects are indisputably vessels (e.g., ships, OSV’s, inland towing vessels, etc.), vessel status is not always so clear and simple. This is particularly true on the Gulf Coast, where specialized equipment has been developed for use in the oil and gas industry and where the distinction between vessel and non-vessel is often blurred. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to provide guidance on this important issue when it decided that a floating house was not a vessel. Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla., 568 U.S. 115 (2013). According to commentators, Lozman appeared to change the test for vessel status. But 8 years later, has the test articulated in Lozman actually changed how the courts determine what qualifies as a vessel or did the Supreme Court merely use different words to restate the prior tests for vessel status?
In Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas L.L.C., 970 F. 3d 550 (5th Cir. 2020), the United States Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit revisited one of maritime personal injuries abiding issues: seaman status. Sanchez was a welder who suffered injury when he tripped on a pipe welded to a jack-up drilling rig. He sued his employer in state court claiming Jones Act negligence. While Sanchez did the work of the vessel and he did so for well over 30% of his work time, he never went to sea. He was never on the vessel/rig when it moved. For the entire time that Sanchez worked on the rig, it was jacked up “above water, a step away from and adjacent to the shoreside pier. Sanchez only worked day shifts, returning home every evening. This talk will discuss this case in detail and its potential ramifications for seaman status going forward.