Court Finds Employer Negligent In Jones Act Claim For Instructing Seaman to Retrieve A Mooring Line

FEBRUARY 23, 2011 by Bill Abbott

In a recent Jones Act case, Bonin v. Ryan Marine Services, Inc. No. 10-40784 (5th Cir. 2011), a maritime employer was found to be negligent by the court after instructing a seaman to detach and retrieve a mooring line. Lavern Bonin was a seaman working for Ryan Marine when his supervisor ordered him and another deckhand to go to the anchor platform and detach the vessel from a work platform on shore. They were instructed to do this by disconnecting and retrieving the mooring line. Bonin suffered a shoulder injury while attempting to follow his supervisor’s instructions.

Bonin subsequently filed a Jones Act claim in an attempt to recover for his maritime injury. The court found in favor of Bonin’s Jones Act claim and awarded him compensation for his economic losses, which included past and future wages. Ryan Marine Services appealed the Jones Act claim to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit arguing that they should not have been found to be negligent in a Jones Act claim merely because they instructed a seaman to perform a job-related duty.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the lower court and again found the case in favor of Bonin, the seaman. The court pointed to several points in affirming their decision. First, the court found that mooring line was too heavy to be moved by only two seamen. Second, the ship’s supervisor sent Bonin out to retrieve the mooring line at night with decreased visibility and in rough waters. Finally, the court found that the vessel was not equipped with adequate safety measures, which may have prevented the seaman’s injury.

Under the Jones Act, maritime employers are required to compensate seamen who are injured due to the employer’s negligence. In this case, Ryan Marine Services was found to be negligent for instructing a seaman to carry out a task that he was not realistically capable of completing under hazardous conditions. If you have sustained an injury while working on a vessel, you may be eligible to file a Jones Act claim against your employer. Contacting an experienced maritime lawyer is the best way to determine your right to compensation under the law.

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