Jones Act Attorney Defended Seaman Who Rented His Vessel, When Employer Tried To Share Liability

DECEMBER 29, 2011 by Ogletree Abbott

Jones Act Attorney Showed Seaman Had Become Employee At Time Of Accident

This case happened because of a tragic accident, after ABC Dredge, Inc. was hired by Big Oil Exploring, Inc., to lay pipeline in canals in the Gulf of Mexico. The job was performed by using the lugger Islip. The Jones Act attorney who was hired by the seaman went on to describe how the Islip, as a specialized canal vessel, would position and move a pipe-laying barge forward. The lugger would push the barge forward, the Jones Act attorney showed, at intervals the length of a 30 foot section of laid pipe. In order to stop the barge, after it was pushed forward, ABC Dredge employees would drop the barge’s 9,000 pound spuds into the canal. Once the barge was secured, ABC employees built the pipeline, screwing each new pipe joint into the laid pipe. The joints were then sealed by using a propane torch to heat a plastic sleeve over the joints.

On the day of the accident, Raymond Ives, an ABC Dredge employee, ordered the lugger to push the barge forward as usual, showed the Jones Act attorney. At a crucial second, observed the Jones Act attorney, Ives gave a hand signal to tell the other crew members to drop the barge’s spuds. Unfortunately, the dropped spuds ruptured an underwater gas line, and the propane torch on the barge ignited the escaping gas. In the resulting fire, the Jones Act attorney described vividly how one crew member drowned, and Ives, along with several other crew members, was badly injured. The Jones Act attorney filed suit under the Jones Act.

After the accident ABC Dredge, Inc. tried to be excused from full liability, since it was not the full owner of the vessel involved in the accident, explained the Jones Act attorney. The district court, siding with the Jones Act attorney, denied ABC Dredge had any right to “limitation,” because the Jones Act attorney opposing the limit had showed that the risks of negligence by ABC Dredge was “something known by its management.” Ives’s Jones Act attorney also beat back ABC Dredge’s request to make Ives himself partially liable. The seaman’s Jones Act attorney proved to the court there’d been a bareboat, or charter, agreement between ABC Dredge and Ives.

Jones Act Attorney Evidence Of Vessel Lease Protected Seaman’s Rights

The Islip was the only asset of Ives & Company, observed the Jones Act attorney. The Jones Act attorney also proved how the vessel was being leased to ABC Dredge at the time of the accident by Ives. ABC Dredge and Ives had agreed, noted the Jones Act attorney, that ABC Dredge (and not Ives) would: (1) pay $200 to Ives for every day the vessel was used; (2) provide a crew and the necessary supplies to work; (3) keep insurance on the vessel; and (4) pay repairs and maintenance. Although the agreement was put in writing, it apparently was never signed by ABC Dredge. Talking with a Jones Act attorney (before any accident) to make sure the contract is enforced can be crucial, as this case showed. Regardless, the acts of the parties were consistent with the unsigned agreement, the Jones Act attorney successfully argued. Finally, the Jones Act attorney also emphasized that a charter doesn’t absolutely need to be in writing to exist.

A “bareboat” or charter, the Jones Act attorney observed, requires an owner (Ives) to give complete and exclusive possession, and command to the charterer (ABC). Along with the exclusive control of the vessel (emphasized the Jones Act attorney) the ABC assumed many of the rights and obligations of Ives, showed the Jones Act attorney. Deciding whether a bareboat charter existed in the case was complicated, noted the Jones Act attorney, by the fact that in addition to being an ABC Dredge employee, Raymond Ives was also the president and stockholder of Ives & Company, which actually owned the Islip. As part of his job as an ABC Dredge employee, Ives occasionally served as captain. Having its president serve as an employee/ seaman complicated answering whether Ives “surrendered” control of the vessel, the Jones Act attorney commented. But, it was also clear from the evidence from the Jones Act attorney that when Ives served as captain, Ives was working as a ABC Dredge employee, the Jones Act attorney went on to prove.

Jones Act Attorney: Seaman’s Occasional Charter Rental Did Not Change Charter Use At Time Of Accident

The employer disagreed (unsuccessfully) with the Jones Act attorney, because ABC Dredge paid for the vessel only on the days it was actually used. The Jones Act attorney successfully pointed out the law, saying “a bareboat charter is the complete surrender of possession and control by the vessel owner to the charterer at the time of use.” The Jones Act attorney properly proved taking possession in this case by ABC included paying for use of the vessel. It didn’t matter, the appeals court agreed with the Jones Act attorney, “whether the charterer used the vessel gainfully or not.”

The Jones Act attorney also added other details of ABC’s control. In this case, ABC Dredge stored the vessel, provided the crew, and paid all necessary repairs and maintenance. ABC even listed the vessel as an available asset when bidding for contracts, and paid insurance for the vessel, proved the Jones Act attorney. The Jones Act attorney had made it clear that Ives completely gave up possession and navigation of the Islip to ABC Dredge. The trial judgment won by the Jones Act attorney, holding ABC solely liable, was upheld.

There are many situations when a seaman should talk to a Jones Act attorney. Sometimes, this need will exist, even before an accident. If a seaman owns a vessel or has a substantial ownership in leasing it for charter, for example, it’s very wise to have an early conversation with a knowledgeable Jones Act attorney.

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