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Maritime Casualty

Seaman Status of a Wireline Operator

Seaman Status is a Two-Part Test

We previously discussed that determining whether your employee is a seaman requires analysis of a two-part test.  First, the employee’s duties must “contribute to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission.”  Second, the employee must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or a fleet of vessels) that is “substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature.”

In Desmore v. Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc., 2016 WL 236060 (E.D. La. Jan. 20, 2016), on a motion for summary judgment, the Eastern District of Louisiana was charged with determining whether wireline operator Roy Desmore was a seaman.  The court first noted that there is no “per se rule that wireline workers are not Jones Act seaman.”  The court then undertook an analysis of this two-part test.


First Prong of the Seaman-Status Test

With respect to the first prong of the test, the court found that Desmore contributed to the function of the vessels Ensco 87 and Ensco 99.  Although he had no job responsibilities related to navigation of those vessels, he “assisted” in their mission of locating hydrocarbons.


Second Prong of the Seaman-Status Test

With respect to the second prong of the test, the court looked at both the duration and nature of Desmond’s connection to the two vessels.  Desmond spent 99 days (out of a total of 150 work days) on the vessels.  He also spent time working at his employer’s onshore facilities.  However, the court was unable to determine the exact number of hours Desmond worked on the Ensco vessels compared to the number of hours spent working on land and on other vessels.  The court held that Desmond’s connection to the Ensco vessels with respect to duration was a factual issue to be determined at trial.

The court also held that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Desmond had a connection to the Ensco vessels that was substantial in nature.  Desmond argued that four of his last six wireline assignments were aboard those vessels.  His employer, however, argued that Desmond’s assignment to those vessels was purely random.  Because of this factual dispute, the court was unable to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.


Issues of Fact Prevented a Seaman Status Determination

The Desmore court noted that determining seaman status involves “mixed questions of law and fact.”  As this case shows, sometimes factual disputes will prevent courts from making seaman status determinations at a pre-trial stage.

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.