No Seaman Status when Assignment Changed to Platform

Posted on February 11th, 2020

If a worker changes assignment from land-based to vessel-based work, “…he is entitled to have the assessment of the substantiality of his vessel-related work made on the basis of his activities in his new position.”[1]

The change-of-assignment concept, however, may also apply in reverse. The district court in Ross v. W&T Offshore, Inc.[2] entered summary judgment that a galley hand/cook assigned to work on a fixed production platform was not a seaman despite prior work on vessels. Alton Ross worked for Bailey Support Services as a galley hand and cook for four months on W&T Offshore’s Ship Shoal 349-A prior to his claimed slip-and-fall injury. The SS 349-A, however, is not a vessel.[3] It is an oil production platform that for over two decades has been permanently affixed to the seafloor by eight pilings.[4]

Ross argued that his prior service for Bailey aboard four vessels owned by three different companies afforded him seaman status.[5] The district court rejected Ross’s arguments, holding that there was not a fact issue that Ross was permanently assigned to the SS 349-A, which, as a non-vessel, could not support seaman status.[6] Therefore, even if his prior work aboard four vessels owned by three different companies made him a seaman, which is unlikely, his assignment to a fixed production platform precludes seaman status.[7] [end].
   [1] Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 372, 115 S. Ct. 2172, 2191-92 (1995); see also
Wilcox v. Wild Well Control, Inc., 794 F.3d 531, 536 (5th Cir. 2015)(“This reassignment exception applies only when an employee has ‘undergone a substantial change in status, not simply [by] serv[ing] on a boat sporadically.’”), citing Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 335 F.3d 376, 389 (5th Cir. 2003)(emphasis added).
   [2] 357 F.Supp. 3d 554 (E.D. La. 2018)(Brown, J.).
   [3] Id. at 563.
   [4] Id.
   [5] Id. at 559.
   [6] Id. at 564.
   [7] Id.

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