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Maritime Casualty

Fifth Circuit: Jones Act Seamen Need Not “Go to Sea”

Requirements to Qualify as Jones Act Seamen

As we previously discussed, Jones Act seamen must “contribute to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission,” and they must also have a substantial connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels in navigation.  See Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., No. 12-31258 (5th Cir. March 10, 2014). 

For example, in Naquin, the plaintiff was a vessel repair supervisor who spent about 70% of his time working on vessels.  Naquin usually worked on lift-boats while they were moored, jacked up, or docked in a shipyard canal; however, two or three times a week he worked on vessels while they were being moved to another position in the canal.  Considering these facts, the district court ruled that Naquin was a Jones Act seaman.

The Difference Between Jones Act Seamen and Land-Based Harbor Workers

The defendant-employer appealed, arguing that Naquin was not a Jones Act seaman but was instead a land-based repairman who performed “classic land-based harbor worker duties.”  The defendant specifically averred that Naquin did not have a substantial connection to vessels because “he was not “regularly exposed to the perils of the sea.”  Indeed, Naquin rarely slept on vessels, usually worked on vessels that were docked, and rarely ventured beyond the immediate canal area or onto the open sea.

Jones Act Seamen Status Based on Exposure to Perils of the Sea

In Harbor Tug & Barge Co. v. Papai, 117 S.Ct. 1535 (1997), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Jones Act coverage is confined to “those workers who face regular exposure to the perils of the sea.”

In Naquin, The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the purpose of the seaman status test was “to distinguish between land-based workers who do not face maritime dangers and the sea-based workers who do face those dangers.”  It also found that Naquin was subjected to those dangers at his job.  The Court wrote, “While these near-shore workers may face fewer risks, they still remain exposed to the perils of a maritime work environment.”

Naquin is a good reminder for employers that their employees could be eligible to receive remedies under the Jones Act even if they work in inland waters or near the shore. 


Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.