Jones Act Covid Lawsuit Leaves Liability Issues Unclear
A recent lawsuit settled in Louisiana has left liability issues unclear for maritime employers. The lawsuit was related to the death of a sea captain who fell ill with the coronavirus and died. The lawsuit was filed by the sea captain’s wife who faulted the company for negligently exposing him to the coronavirus.
While passenger lawsuits against cruise lines and others have proven quite difficult to win or even survive summary dismissal, passengers sign extensive contracts with cruise providers to avoid such litigation. In addition, our state and federal governments have made it harder for passengers to file these suits against cruise companies. On the other hand, employees are offered greater protections than passengers. While a passenger can sign away substantial leverage to file suit and have those rights stripped of them by their local governments, employees, especially those at sea, are entitled to a safe workplace in which to do their job.
The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in which an employee has filed suit against a maritime employer under The Jones Act for contracting an illness during a pandemic. The terms of the settlement are currently unknown.
Are all employee COVID lawsuits winnable under The Jones Act?
At this point, it’s really hard to say. The State of Florida offered broadscale protections to businesses so that they could open post-pandemic. Nonetheless, virus-related or infection-related lawsuits remain nearly impossible to win because a plaintiff cannot establish the point of infection. In this case, the sea captain contracted the virus from fellow employees. It was also during the peak of the pandemic when Louisiana’s governor began shutting down schools and non-essential businesses. The settlement terms were not made available to the public, so we don’t know if the plaintiff offered a nuisance settlement or an award that would be considered standard for wrongful death lawsuits of this type.
Maritime workers are entitled to a safe workplace
The Jones Act stipulates that all maritime employers must provide their employees with a safe workplace. It was on this basis that a wrongful death settlement was reached. The plaintiffs were able to provide timeline evidence that showed that the company did not act in accord with the governor’s mandates and continued to do business as usual even while the pandemic was at its peak. As a result of this negligence, the company exposed their sea captain to danger and it cost him his life.
With due deference to the defense and their arguments, the plaintiff was able to argue that within the timeline of the pandemic, the company acted negligently. Whether or not similar lawsuits can be won on the same basis remains to be seen, but situating the contraction of the illness within the timeline of the pandemic lockdown probably helps a lot.
Talk to a Miami Maritime Attorney Today
Miami admiralty & maritime lawyer Michael F. Guilford represents the interests of maritime employees and cruise ship passengers in personal injury lawsuits, employment disputes, and more. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help.