In Alexander v. Express Energy Services Operating, the U.S. Fifth Circuit further refined the seaman status test, emphasizing the amount of work a plaintiff actually performed on a vessel, and concluding that a worker who spends less than about 30 percent of his time in the service of a vessel in navigation, should not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act. The Fifth Circuit stated that to prove that he was a seaman, the plaintiff, Alexander, must prove that: (1) he contributed to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, and (2) he was assigned permanently to the vessel or spent a substantial part of his total work time-30% -aboard the vessel or an identifiable fleet of vessels.
Alexander was injured while working on a platform that had a liftboat positioned next to the platform with a catwalk connecting the vessel to the platform. A permanent crane was located on the liftboat, while all other equipment, including wireline equipment, was located on the platform. Alexander was injured when a wireline from the crane snapped, dropping a bridge plug/tool combination which had been suspended a foot above the deck, which then rolled onto his foot.
The undisputed summary judgment evidence showed that approximately 65% of Alexander's jobs involved a fixed platform only, without the help of an adjacent vessel. It was not sufficient that Alexander was merely near a vessel on more than 30% of his jobs or that he performed some incidental work on a vessel on those jobs. Instead, to be a seaman, a plaintiff must show that they actually worked on a vessel at least 30% of the time.
No Punitive Damages for Unseaworthiness Claim
Recently, on Monday May 18, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the writs of certiorari in McBride v. Estis Well Service. As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's holdings that a seaman's recovery for unseaworthiness under the Jones Act or the general maritime law is limited to pecuniary losses, which does not include punitive damages, stands.