Fifth Circuit Grants Compensation to Injured Worker in Unseaworthiness Claim, But Contributory Negligence Reduces Compensations
In December of 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an instructive decision in an unseaworthiness claim. In the case of Knight v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC, the appeals court granted a financial award to an injured worker, but reduces his compensation on the grounds of contributory negligence. Here, our Texas maritime lawyers provide an overview of the accident and explain the court’s decision.
Case Analysis: Knight v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC
Background and Facts
Andrew Knight worked aboard a tugboat M/V SEA HAWK. The vessel is owned and operated by Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC. With headquarters in Houston, TX, Kirby is one of the largest barge companies in the United States. Employed as an offshore tankerman, Mr. Knight was responsible for deck labor aboard the vessel.
According to information provided to the court, Mr. Knight was instructed by his captain to swap out a line on the vessel. At that time, there were rough seas and significant winds. The vessel shifted and Mr. Knight fell, suffering a serious ankle injury in the process.
The Legal Dispute
Mr. Knight filed a personal injury claim under the Jones Act on the grounds that his ankle injury was unseaworthiness. Maritime employers are required to provide a sea-worthy vessel. For its part, Kirby Offshore Marine countered that this employee was largely responsible for his own injuries. The legal issue before the court was as follows: Could a maritime employee be held liable for his share of contributory negligence if he was acting upon direct orders of his captain?
Jones Act claims are negligence claims. To hold a maritime employer liable under the Jones Act, an employee must prove negligence. A company’s liability can be reduced proportionally if the worker is partially at-fault for his or her own injuries.
In reviewing and evaluating this case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals emphasized that a seaman cannot be held liable for contributory negligence under the Jones Act “when the seaman is ordered to do a specific task in a specific manner or is ordered to do a task that can be accomplished in only one.”
However, in this case, the appeals court also noted that the employee (Mr. Knight) was only asked to perform a general task by his supervisor. As this worker had considerable discretion for performing the task in question, he could be held liable for contributory fault even though his captain gave the instructions.
Contact Our Texas Maritime Law Attorneys for Immediate Help
At the Kolodny Law Firm, our Texas maritime lawyers are committed to providing personalized, top quality representation and support to our clients. If you have any questions about unseaworthiness and alleged contributory negligence, we are ready to help. Contact our firm today for a no cost, no obligation review and evaluation of your case. Our attorneys provide maritime law services throughout the wider region, including in Houston and Galveston.