Maritime cases often discuss vessels and their “appurtenances.” For example, a vessel owner can be held liable under the theory of unseaworthiness if the vessel’s appurtenances are defective. Merriam-Webster defines “appurtenance” as “an object that is used with or for something.” But what does the word mean under general maritime law, and how do we determine what equipment constitutes an appurtenance?
The Eastern District of Louisiana has defined “appurtenance” as “any identifiable item that is destined for use aboard a specifically identifiable vessel and is essential to the vessel’s navigation, operation or mission.” Clay v. ENSCO Offshore Company, 2015 WL 7306436 (E.D. La. Nov. 19, 2015). An item can be appurtenant to a vessel even when the item is brought aboard by a contractor and the vessel did not sanction its use or know of its existence. Id.
What Constitutes an Appurtenance?
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals identified three important inquiries when determining whether certain equipment is appurtenant to a vessel: (1) whether the equipment is attached to the vessel, (2) whether the equipment is “utilized in a manner fundamentally related to traditional maritime activities,” and (3) whether the accident occurred on the vessel. Drachenberg v. Canal Barge Co., Inc., 571 F.2d 912 (5th Cir. 1978).
However, equipment can still be an appurtenance even if it is only temporarily attached to the vessel, not part of the vessel’s usual gear, not usually stored on board, or not controlled by the vessel’s crew. Id. The Fifth Circuit explained that only “minimal attachment” is required when the accident occurs on the vessel. Id.
Recently, in Desmore v. Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc., 2016 WL 475901 (E.D. La. Feb. 8, 2016), the Eastern District of Louisiana used only two factors when deciding whether a defective clamp was an appurtenance: (1) whether the clamp was utilized in a manner fundamentally related to traditional maritime activities, and (2) whether the plaintiff’s injury occurred on board the vessel as opposed to dockside. The first Desmore factor was satisfied because the clamp “was a critical component integrally related to the vessel’s function,” which was drilling activity. The fact that the plaintiff was injured on the vessel was further evidence to the court that the clamp was an appurtenance.
These cases show that identifying appurtenances is not cut-and-dried. If you have questions whether your equipment are vessel appurtenances, it is advisable to speak to an attorney.
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.