Jones Act and LHWCA claims in view of the Covid-19 pandemic

Standard Club has warned that the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) was drafted to favour workers, and therefore a shipowner might face claims from seamen under the Jones Act, in relation to catching Covid-19, which might be difficult to disprove.

Under the Jones Act a seafarer can claim for maintenance and cure benefits, or bring actions against a shipowner for negligence or unseaworthiness. In order to meet the preliminary burden for maintenance and cure benefits, a seafarer must prove the illness manifested itself during service of the ship. The Club observed that, given the widespread lack of testing equipment and the relatively mild symptoms of Covid-19 in many cases, it might prove quite difficult to prove where and when a seaman contracted the virus. If a seaman met this burden, a shipowner would be liable for subsequent repatriation, quarantine, and treatment until the seaman reached maximum medical improvement.

Shipowners might also face claims by seaman for negligence and unseaworthiness of the ship under the Jones Act or negligence under section 905(b) of the LHWCA by harbour workers.

A relevant recent case might be a recent Appeal Court ruling (in favour of Maersk) relating to this matter.

In the US Court of Appeals for the eleventh circuit No. 19-12041 Albert Purvis was the Plaintiff-Appellant versus Maersk Line A/S, the Defendant-Appellee.

Albert Purvis had appealed the district court of Georgia’s grant of summary judgment to Maersk Line A/S (Maersk) in Purvis’s suit against Maersk alleging negligence under Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Purvis was injured when a hatch cover crashed down on his head while climbing a ladder, causing him to fall to the platform below.

Purvis contended that the district court entered summary judgment in error because a material question of fact remained regarding whether the ship breached its turnover duty under Scindia Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. v. De Los Santos, 451 US 156 (1981), when it left one of its hatch covers in such a condition that it could fall at any time on a longshoreman passing through it. The Appeal Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Maersk.

No material question of fact remained regarding whether Maersk breached its turnover duty.