Jones Act Attorney Wins Point: Should Contractor Have Been Aware Of Falling Risk?

DECEMBER 13, 2011 by Ogletree Abbott

Jones Act Attorney Defended Seaman Rights After Fall On Slippery Surface

A testing and safety laboratory has worked with a Jones Act attorney to identify the risks of slip and fall injuries for seamen at work. The numbers, according to the Jones Act attorney and the project researcher (Doctor Delores Sanchez) are “staggering in terms of numbers and the extent of injuries.” One in three total work place accidents are slip and fall, according to the Jones Act attorney. Dr. Sanchez also notes that many of the cases are “deceptive,” because the injury may cause a “gradual decline in health.” For that reason, Sanchez also recommends that seamen need to consider talking with a Jones Act attorney after almost any slip and fall incident at work. In the following case, a Jones Act attorney successfully proved a contractor (not just the vessel owner) likely should have known of dangerous, slippery deck conditions.

After a serious, career threatening back injury, the seaman sought the help of an experienced Jones Act attorney. An employer, observed the Jones Act attorney, is liable under the Jones Act if the employer or its agents either actually knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. In this case, the Jones Act attorney had to prove dangers of a slippery and cramped engine room. Complicating the case, the Jones Act attorney also wanted to prove a contractor (and not just the vessel owner) was at fault.

The Jones Act attorney for the seaman didn’t try to prove the contractor (or its agents) actually knew of the cramped and slippery conditions. The Jones Act attorney argued, instead, that the contractor should have known of these conditions. The Jones Act attorney established that knowledge of these conditions—and their danger— can be imputed to a contractor in two ways: through the vessel’s employees, or by something called constructive notice.

Jones Act Attorney: Differences In Liability Can Rest On Contractor Agreement With Vessel Owner

In this case, the seaman was employed by an independent contractor to work aboard ship. The Jones Act attorney raised crucial questions in deciding whether the independent contractor could be the agent of the shipowner/employer. The contractor had no ownership interest in the vessel, was not in a ‘joint venture’ with the owners, and had no control over operations of the ship. The contractor had its own employees, of whom the injured seaman was one, observed the Jones Act attorney. This gave the contractor many ways to have learned about the vessel’s conditions, proved the Jones Act attorney. There was, the Jones Act attorney suggested, probably no relationship between the vessel and the contractor, except that of shipowner and independent contractor.

Yet, a contractor, said the Jones Act attorney, can still be charged with constructive notice if, that contractor ought to have known about or discovered the dangerous conditions.

Seaman Has Right To Contractor’s Inspection Duty Protected By Jones Act Attorney

The Jones Act attorney showed a contractor has a duty of reasonable inspection. The Jones Act attorney mentioned other cases, where a Jones Act employer had a responsibility to inspect a third party’s vessel. As the Jones Act attorney put it successfully, “to take reasonable precautions, to give its employees a safe working place.” The Jones Act attorney mentioned a specific example, when an employer had responsibility to inspect cargo containers of a third party, if it sent its employees to service the third party’s products. In this case, the Jones Act attorney stressed there was even more contact by the contractor.

The Jones Act attorney showed there was at least an issue of fact about whether the contractor should have known of the unsafe conditions in the engine room. The size and configuration of the engine room were permanent, and it was likely, as the Jones Act attorney suggested, that the contractor was aware of these facts. A jury could also find that a reasonable inspection would show the area was not reasonably safe for a seaman to avoid slipping, pointed out the Jones Act attorney.

Doctor Sanchez noted that last year alone, employees lost an estimated 104 million days of work due to slips and falls. “We know that slip and falls for seamen tend to be twice as severe as land accidents.” And, she emphasized, a Jones Act attorney “will be aware of the special duties owed to prevent a seaman’s slip and fall.” No matter how serious the slip and fall may be at first, it’s never too early to seek the help of a Jones Act attorney.

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