Justia Admiralty & Maritime Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Patricia Guadalupe Garcia Cervantes, a Mexican citizen who was attempting to enter the United States illegally by swimming across the Brownsville Ship Channel, was struck and killed by a Coast Guard vessel patrolling the area. Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of his and Cervantes' daughter, filed suit alleging negligence and wrongful death claims against the United States, as well as products liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death claims against the manufacturers of the vessel and its engines, Safe Boats and Mercury Marine.After determining that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction based on admiralty, the Fifth Circuit concluded that, notwithstanding plaintiff's own lack of standing, he may still maintain claims as next-of-friend for his daughter. Reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment and its duty determination de novo, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims. The court held that the negligence claim failed because the United States owed no duty to Cervantes; the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's defective design claims against Safe Boats and Mercury Marine where Cervantes lacked standing to bring those claims under Section 402A of the Second Restatement in regard to maritime products liability claims; even assuming plaintiff could bring these products liability claims, plaintiff failed to show that the asserted defective products proximately caused Cervantes' death; plaintiff's failure-to-warn claims were also properly dismissed; and the district court correctly dismissed the wrongful death claims after dismissing all the underlying tort claims. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and affirmed the dismissal. View "Ortega Garcia v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was hired by Kirby to pilot a seagoing vessel. While plaintiff was aboard the vessel, he injured his foot when he tripped over a stair inside a hatch door. Plaintiff filed suit against Kirby for lost wages and the district court ultimately determined that Kirby was liable to plaintiff on his claim of Sieracki seaworthiness and that Kirby was alternatively liable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The district court awarded plaintiff $11,695,136.00 in damages.The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiff is not an employee of Riben Marine and thus is not eligible to sue under section 905(b) of the LHWCA; the district court did not clearly err in concluding that the vessel was unseaworthy; plaintiff was not contributorily negligent for wearing sunglasses on the vessel and the district court did not make insufficient factual findings on the contributory negligence question; assuming arguendo that the district court erroneously admitted evidence of a subsequent remedial measure, Kirby has not demonstrated that the error affected its substantial rights; and the district court did not err in assessing plaintiff's lost future earnings. View "Rivera v. Kirby Offshore Marine, LLC" on Justia Law

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After he sustained an ankle injury by stepping on a chafed stern line while he was a seaman aboard a tugboat owned by Kirby, plaintiff filed a Jones Act negligence claim against Kirby. The district court concluded that Kirby was negligent, based on an order by its vessel's captain to replace the stern line in unfavorable weather. Furthermore, plaintiff was contributorily negligent for placing the removed stern line near him and subsequently stepping on it while carrying out that order, reducing his damages award in proportion to his fault.The Fifth Circuit concluded that changing out the chafed line fell within the class of ordinary "heavy lifting" plaintiff performed routinely, and thus the district court was not precluded, as a matter of law, from reducing his award proportional to his fault. The court explained that the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiff was negligent in stepping on the chafed line, but the district court did err in finding him negligent for failing to move it. In this case, Kirby did not present any evidence showing that plaintiff placed the chafed line on the deck in an imprudent manner and the tugboat's captain, who gave plaintiff the order, watched the entire procedure, testifying that there were no irregularities in how the task was performed. Therefore, in the absence of any evidence, the district court's finding of fifty percent negligence based on plaintiff's placement of the chafed stern line is clearly erroneous. Finally, the court upheld the general damages award and concluded that the district court did not clearly err in awarding $60,000. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Knight v. Kirby Offshore Marine Pacific, LLC" on Justia Law

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Southern Recycling brought a petition for exoneration or limitation of liability under the Limitation of Liability Act. The petition arose from an accident during shipbreaking operations that killed one worker and injured another. Claimants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of admiralty jurisdiction, and the district court granted the motion.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court explained that the jurisdictional question of whether DBL 134 is a vessel is antecedent to the merits in a limitation action, rather than intertwined with the merits, and thus the district court did not err in applying the usual Rule 12(b)(1) standard and resolving factual disputes about the physical characteristics of the structure. The court also concluded that Southern Recycling failed to demonstrate that, based on its physical characteristics, DBL 134 had no been removed from navigation. Therefore, the district court did not err in concluding that DBL 134 was not longer a "vessel," but instead was a "dead ship." Finally, Southern Recycling has not shown why it needed further discovery or what material evidence further discovery could have produced that was not already available to it. View "Southern Recycling, LLC v. Aguilar" on Justia Law

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After two barge towboats collided on the Mississippi River, the district court found the captains of both vessels negligent to varying degrees. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's apportionment of fault, rejecting Marquette's argument that the district court misinterpreted Inland Navigational Rule 14(d) when it held that the VANPORT was under no duty to propose the manner of passage. Because Marquette's arguments regarding Rules 5 through 8 flow from the district court's putative misreading of Rule 14(d), the court rejected these arguments too. Furthermore, the district court's holdings regarding Rules 5 through 8 were made alternatively to its determinations on ordinary negligence. The court further held that the district court did not err in assigning the VANPORT 30 percent of the liability for the collision. Finally, the court remanded to the district court to consider whether prejudgment interest is proper and, if so, in what amount. View "Deloach Marine Services LLC v. Marquette Transportation Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the deck of a jacked-up offshore drilling rig, he filed a negligence action against Smart Fabricators under the Jones Act. The district court denied plaintiff's motion to remand to state court, granting Smart Fabricator's motion for summary judgment. The district court's ruling was based on its conclusion that plaintiff did not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act.The Fifth Circuit reversed and held that plaintiff qualifies as a seaman under the Jones Act where plaintiff has shown that he had a substantial connection both in nature and duration to the vessels on which he worked. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff satisfied the duration requirement of the Chandris test because he spent over 70 percent of his employment with SmartFab aboard a rig adjacent to an inland pier and around 19 percent of his employment aboard a rig on the Outer Continental Shelf. The court also held that plaintiff's connection to the vessel was substantial in nature and he satisfied the nature requirement of the Chandris test where plaintiff's work on vessels exposed him to the perils of the sea. The court explained that, although plaintiff was a land-based welder who went home every evening, such work aboard vessels did not disqualify him as a Jones Act seaman. The court remanded with instructions to remand the matter to state court. View "Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

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After James Mays was killed in an explosion on an offshore platform owned by Chevron, Mays' widow and children filed suit against Chevron for state law wrongful death. Mays was directly employed by Furmanite, a Chevron subcontractor, which serviced valves on Chevron's platforms. At issue was whether Mays' accident was covered by the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The jury found that Mays' death was caused by Chevron's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities, and thus the LHWCA applied and Chevron did not enjoy state immunity.The Fifth Circuit affirmed and rejected Chevron's argument that the district court erred by instructing the jury to consider Chevron's OCS operations in answering the substantial nexus question. The court held that the district court did not misapply Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 565 U.S. 207 (2012), by instructing the jury to determine whether there was a substantial nexus between Mays' death and Chevron's—as opposed to Furmanite's—OCS operations. The court also rejected Chevron's argument that the evidence linking its OCS operations to Mays' death failed to meet the substantial nexus test as a matter of law. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to reduce the jury's $2 million loss-of-affection award to Mrs. Mays. View "Mays v. Chevron Pipe Line Co." on Justia Law

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After Martin delivered free fuel to three support vessels owned by CGG, the support vessels then carried the fuel in their cargo tanks to refuel three other vessels. Martin filed suit after CGG failed to pay for the fuel.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court's conclusion that Martin had a maritime lien on the support vessels unduly expanded the court's maritime lien precedents. Under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act, a person may obtain a maritime lien against a vessel by providing it with "necessaries." The court explained that fuel may be necessary to a vessel if it fuels the vessel, but the fuel transported by the support vessels in this case was for refueling other vessels. Therefore, the court held that the fuel was not necessary to the support vessels and reversed the district court's judgment. View "Martin Energy Services, LLC v. Bourbon Petrel M/V" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that American Marine was liable for most of plaintiff's injuries. Plaintiff was working as a seaman for American Marine when he was injured on board a vessel owned by the employer.The court held that American Marine has failed to demonstrate that the district court’s finding of unseaworthiness was clear error; American Marine failed to establish that plaintiff's accident was mostly his own fault where the district court clearly evaluated the evidence and made no inconsistent findings about causation, finding plaintiff 20 percent at fault; American Marine failed to carry its burden of demonstrating clear error in the district court's choice between competing experts; the district court's finding of diminished earning capacity was not clearly erroneous; in regard to the district court's award of past medical expenses because of American Marine's negligence, plaintiff's failure to prove that he was obliged to reimburse his attorneys for his medical expenses is irrelevant; and the district court did not clearly err in crediting plaintiff's testimony about his current condition. View "Luwisch v. American Marine Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Board's order awarding benefits to claimant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The court held that claimant was on navigable waters at the time of injury and thus his case was controlled by Dir., OWCP, U.S. Dep't of Labor v. Perini N. River Assocs., 459 U.S. 297, 299 (1983). In this case, because claimant was regularly employed by MMR on navigable waters and, under Perini, meets the "employee" definition, it follows that MMR had at least one employee engaged in maritime employment. View "MMR Constructors, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law