Jones Act Cases - Seaman Cases, Decisions & Opinions
Law Office of William H. Lawson
Release by seaman through his employer differs markedly from release by ordinary worker to his employer, because seamen are wards of admiralty and their releases are subject to careful scrutiny. Kelcey v Tankers Co. (1954, CA2 NY) 217 F2d 541.
Where employer did not establish as matter of law that plaintiff's acceptance of compensation payments constituted waiver of federal maritime remedies, district court should not had granted summary judgment against plaintiff on Jones's Act Claim. Reyes v Delta Dallas Alpha Corp. (1999, CA2 NY) 199 F3d 626, 2000 AMC 776.
Seaman may settle claim and execute valid release. Ames v American Export Lines, Inc. (1941, DC NY) 41 F Supp 930; King v Waterman S.S. Corp. (1945, DC NY) 61 F Supp 969, 1945 AMC 656.
390. Relationship with other laws
That workman had given release under 46 USCS Appx section 688 and had accepted benefits from his employers was of no consequence as to his rights to compensation under 33 USCS section 901 et seq. Pacific Employers Ins. Co. v Pillsbury (1942, CA9 Cal) 130 F2d 21, 1942 AMC 1256.
45 USCS section 55, incorporated by reference into 46 USCS Appx section 688, does not invalidate contract of release incident to fair settlement of accrued claim for seaman's damages under section 688. Bay State Dredging & Contracting Co. v Porter (1946, CA1 Mass) 153 F2d 827.
To determine whether award of Workers Compensation benefits constituted waiver of Jones Act claim, court must determine whether formal award of benefits was issued by Compensation Board and whether it became final and conclusive on parties before plaintiff commenced Jones Act claim. Mooney v City of New York (2000, CA2 NY) 213 F3d 65, amd, op replaced (2000, CA2 NY) 219 F3d 123.
391. --State laws
Local state laws or rules relating to law of releases may not be applied even if suit is tried in state court, but rules laid down by court of admiralty will control. Garrett v Moore-McCormack Co. (1942) 317 US 239, 87 L Ed 239, 63 S Ct 246, 1942 AMC 1645.
In some cases release based on measure of liability under particular state Workman's Compensation Act might conceivably be fair and reasonable settlement. Bay State Dredging & Contracting Co. v Porter (1946, CA1 Mass) 153 F2d 827.
Injured worker's Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) claim against Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District will not be dismissed summarily on basis of California Tort Claims Act, even though Jones Act suits are subject to state waivers of sovereign immunity, because Eleventh Amendment immunity is prerequisite for state-conferred immunity, and district expressly refrains from asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity. Dougherty v Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transp. Dist. (1998, ND Cal) 31 F Supp 2d 724, 1998 AMC 2658.
Injured seaman who brought claims alternatively under 46 USCS Appx section 688, in maritime tort, and under state workmen's compensation laws, was barred from pursuing his other remedies following compromise and settlement of action under 46 USCS Appx section 688; injured seaman is free to select forum and remedy most favorable to him, but once having chosen, may not have two bites at apple. Jones v Baton Rouge Marine Contractors (1961, La App 1st Cir) 127 So 2d 58.
392. Construction of release
Release which purports to run to owner of several vessels, if followed or preceded by words relating to specific claims, will be disregarded, since general rule is that general words in release are to be disregarded in light of specific words relating to claims. Kelcey v Tankers Co. (1954, CA2 NY) 217 F2d 541.
Releases made by seamen are not treated as wholly invalid, but admiralty courts carefully scrutinize them to see that seaman has not been overreached, and that seaman has been treated with same degree of fairness as is required between trustee and cestui que trust and guardian and ward; adequacy of consideration and nature of medical and legal advice available to seaman at time of signing release are relevant to appraisal of his understanding of his rights in signing. Garrett v Moore-McCormack Co. (1942) 317 US 239, 87 L Ed 239, 63 S Ct 246, 1942 AMC 1645.
Validity of release given by seaman was matter to be determined by jury and not judge. Guerrero v American-Hawiian S.S. Co. (1955, CA9 Cal) 222 F2d 238, 1955 AMC 1035.
In action under 46 USCS Appx section 688 to recover for injuries suffered, it was for jury to determine whether seaman was permanently disabled and whether release signed was contingent upon disability being permanent, in which case release would not be valid. Wooten v Skibs A/S Samuel Bakke (1969, CA4 Va) 431 F2d 821.
Release of liability is upheld in favor of employer where seaman was injured and employer paid him $ 5,000 for executing release, because (1) employer had already paid all maintenance and cure and past wages owing, (2) seaman had adequate legal and medical advice, (3) evidence shows seaman had intelligence and capacity to understand advice he received, and (4) there is no credible evidence seaman's financial condition impaired his judgment. Braxton v Zapata Offshore Co. (1988, ED Tex) 684 F Supp 921.
Seaman's release must be held binding, in Jones Act (46 USCS Appx section 688) action arising from crushed little finger which was settled for $ 10,000 "new money" by unrepresented seaman negotiating directly with fishing vessel owner's insurer, because settlement procedure was entirely free from any "deception or coercion," and settlement amount was product of genuine negotiation. Pereira v Boa Viagem Fishing Corp. (1998, DC Mass) 11 F Supp 2d 151.
394. --Mistake, deception, coercion
Release fairly entered into and fairly safeguarding rights of seaman must be considered valid, but in determining that it is, jury may properly inquire into all factors leading up to execution of same, even including testimony that seaman had few beers and whiskeys before signing. Law v United Fruit Co. (1959, CA2 NY) 264 F2d 498, 1959 AMC 1105, cert den 360 US 932, 3 L Ed 2d 1546, 79 S Ct 1452.
Release of 46 USCS Appx section 688 claim by licensed maritime officer was binding when there was evidence that he expressly authorized his own counsel to settle claim and even if officer had claim against his own counsel for coercion or overbearing, this would not permit settlement, one which is not claimed to have been unfair, to be overturned. Gilbert v United States (1973, CA2 NY) 479 F2d 1267.
Seaman who was led to believe that settlement included promise of continued employment but was terminated on day of settlement did not fully appreciate consequences of settlement and trial court correctly set it aside. Gueho v Diamond M. Drilling Co. (1975, CA5 La) 524 F2d 986, cert den 425 US 976, 48 L Ed 2d 800, 96 S Ct 2177.
Jury's verdict and District Court's judgment on verdict annulling earlier settlement and consent decree was amply supported by evidence that seaman was promised that he could return to work as diver and that without prospect of continued employment he would not have agreed to settlement in spite of defendant's argument that consent judgment was valid and binding because seaman understood his medical prognosis was uncertain and that he accepted risk that he would not be able to resume his diving job. Gauthier v Continental Diving Services, Inc. (1987, CA5 La) 831 F2d 559.
In action under 46 USCS Appx section 688, release obtained under circumstances which deceived seamen, are not binding in subsequent libel for injuries; releases by seamen are never conclusive unless made knowingly, intentionally and with full understanding. The Henry S. Grove (1927, DC Md) 22 F2d 444.
Release is valid and binding when it is shown that it was executed freely, without deception or coercion, and that it was made by seaman with full understanding of his rights. Haddock v North Atlantic & Gulf S.S. Co. (1948, DC Md) 81 F Supp 421, 1949 AMC 49.
By verdict in plaintiff's favor, jury found by implication that release signed by plaintiff was not understood by him at time of execution. De Luca v Red Salmon Canning Co. (1934) 2 Cal App 2d 124, 37 P2d 704.
395. ----As to seaman's conditionRelease fairly and freely into by seaman, with full comprehension entered will be upheld, and he cannot have release set aside on ground of mistake as to nature and extent of injuries. Sitchon v American Export Lines, Inc. (1940, CA2 NY) 113 F2d 830, cert den 311 US 705, 85 L Ed 458, 61 S Ct 171.
Release, executed by injured seaman after long hospitalization and after independent resolve to forego professional legal aid, was not invalid where neutral hospital report predicted speedier recovery than shipowner's physician although as matter of fact recovery period was much longer than ship's physician forecast. Thompson v Coastal Oil Co. (1955, CA3 NJ) 221 F2d 559, affd 350 US 956, 100 L Ed 832, 76 S Ct 345, vacated without op 350 US 985, 100 L Ed 852, 76 S Ct 471 and revd without op 352 US 862, 1 L Ed 2d 73, 77 S Ct 90.
There was no mistake of fact concerning extent of seaman's knee injury warranting setting aside of seaman's release where evidence supported finding that seaman understood causes and nature of his disability, appreciated their potential ramifications, and that possiblity of extended rehabilitation period or necessity of further medical care were risks seaman chose to accept when he signed release. Charpentier v Fluor Ocean Services, Inc. (1980, CA5 La) 613 F2d 81, reh den (CA5 La) 615 F2d 919.
Mistake as to future unknowable effect of existing facts, mistake as to future uncertain duration of known condition, or mistake as to future effect of personal injury is insufficient to set aside release of possible claim under 46 USCS Appx section 688. Robles v Trinidad Corp. (1966, SD NY) 270 F Supp 570.
Failure of claim agent of defendant ship-operator to apprise plaintiff seaman of his statutory right to general damages, in event his injuries were caused by defendant's negligence, as well as to recovery for maintenance and cure, showed that agent and plaintiff did not deal at arm's length at time agent procured release from plaintiff. Proctor v Sword Line, Inc. (1948, City Ct) 83 NYS2d 288.
396. --Necessity of competent advice
Seaman, who had no lawyer or other competent adviser representing him when he signed release including injuries and illnesses, did not thereby bar himself from action to recover for tuberculosis resulting from owner's negligence in supplying proper sleeping quarters on board its vessel, if seaman at time he signed release did not know that he had tuberculosis. Hume v Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc. (1941, CA2 NY) 121 F2d 336, 1941 AMC 1079, cert den 314 US 684, 86 L Ed 547, 62 S Ct 188.
Release given by seaman in settlement of 46 USCS Appx section 688 claim was invalid where statement given by seaman to owners' counsel, unassisted by his own counsel, did not contain facts necessary to show that liability under section 688 actually existed; seaman, unassisted by his own counsel, is not to be charged with knowledge of what is legally material and what is not, risk of not receiving all material information is on owners. Rider v Sprague S.S. Co. (1957, DC Mass) 149 F Supp 949.
397. --Requirement of disclosure by shipowner or agent
Insurance agent, negotiating with seaman who was without benefit of counsel, was under obligation to bring home to seaman understanding of rights he was giving up in exchange for settlement offered, otherwise, seaman would necessarily not be in position to make intelligent decision as to whether offer should be accepted and particularly that recovery under 46 USCS Appx section 688 was not subject to statutory maximum limits. Bay State Dredging & Contracting Co. v Porter (1946, CA1 Mass) 153 F2d 827.
Whether failure to reveal exact degree of disability impairs seaman's informed understanding of his condition necessary to validity of release will depend on facts of particular case; failure to disclose physician's diagnosis of 15 percent permanent disability did not impair seaman's ability to make informed decision regarding settlement where he had been told he would suffer some permanent disability and had testified that he knew his injured knee would never be as sturdy as it was prior to injury. Charpentier v Fluor Ocean Services, Inc. (1980, CA5 La) 613 F2d 81, reh den (CA5 La) 615 F2d 919.
Where injured seaman is not represented by counsel, it is owner's obligation to make full, fair and complete disclosure as to all of seaman's rights, including his right to sue for damages under Jones Act, and his right to wages, maintenance and cure under applicable seamen's law. Orsini v O/S Seabrooke (2001, CA9 Alaska) 247 F3d 953, 2001 CDOS 3226, 2001 Daily Journal DAR 3981.
Shipowner's claim agent bears fiduciary relation to seaman in negotiating settlement of liability for ailment contracted in service of ship, and duty is imposed on him to tell seaman facts within his knowledge respecting his condition; procuring of release from seaman discharging shipowner from all liabilities for wages, maintenance, and cure of seaman while sick, by suppressing truth as to his condition, is fraud and renders release void. Spillers v South Atlantic S.S. Co. (1942, DC Del) 45 F Supp 2, 1942 AMC 1063.
398. --Burden of proving validity
Burden rests upon one who sets up seaman's release as defense to show that it was executed freely, without deception or coercion, and that it was made by seaman with full understanding of his rights. Garrett v Moore-McCormack Co. (1942) 317 US 239, 87 L Ed 239, 63 S Ct 246.
Burden is on defendant, in seaman's action for personal injuries, to show that plaintiff's release was executed freely, without deception or coercion, and with full understanding of rights, and adequacy of consideration and nature of medical and legal advice available to plaintiff when release was signed are relevant to appraisal of this understanding. German v Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp. (1948, CA3 Pa) 169 F2d 715, 1949 AMC 285; Haddock v North Atlantic & Gulf S.S. Co. (1948, DC Md) 81 F Supp 421.
One who claims that seaman has signed away rights must bear burden of sustaining release as having been fairly made, fully comprehended by seaman, and executed freely without deception or coercion. Kelcey v Tankers Co. (1954, CA2 NY) 217 F2d 541.
Burden is on party relying upon release to show that it was executed freely, without deception or coercion, and was made by seaman with full understanding of his rights. Law v United Fruit Co. (1959, CA2 NY) 264 F2d 498, cert den 360 US 932, 3 L Ed 2d 1546, 79 S Ct 1452.
Settlements involving seamen's rights under 46 USCS Appx section 688 are subject to careful scrutiny, burden is upon parties claiming settlement as defense in section 688 action to show that it was entered into by seaman with informed understanding of his rights and full appreciation of settlement's consequences; defendant shipowner did not bear burden of demonstrating that seaman fully appreciated consequences of settlement when during settlement negotiations, seaman, who was not represented by counsel, was told by owner's insurance adjustor that seaman could retain employment and was, after approval of settlement by District Court, terminated as employee. Gueho v Diamond M. Drilling Co. (1975, CA5 La) 524 F2d 986, cert den 425 US 976, 48 L Ed 2d 800, 96 S Ct 2177.
Seamen are considered wards of admiralty and as such releases by them are carefully scrutinized, burden is upon one who sets up release to show that it was executed freely, without deception or coercion, and that it was made by the seaman with full understanding of his rights thus in opposition to motion for summary judgment affidavit by plaintiff that he was informed that counsel would not be necessary; that he did not have information necessary to determine that amount offered was grossly inadequate; his lack of understanding of release is evidenced by subsequently having attempted to obtain workers' compensation; that he was not fully advised of rights to recover under federal law; and that claims adjuster told him that amount was all that was available for type of injury, was sufficient to preclude grant of motion. Davis v American Commercial Lines, Inc. (1987, CA6 Ky) 823 F2d 1006.
In action by seaman to recover for maintenance and cure and for damages by reason of unseaworthiness of vessel, plaintiff, being ward of court, and burden resting upon defendant to show that release was executed freely, without coercion, and that it was made by plaintiff with full understanding of his rights, question of whether release was so executed by plaintiff was question of fact for jury. German v Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp. (1948, DC Pa) 75 F Supp 361, affd (CA3 Pa) 169 F2d 715, 1949 AMC 285.
Amount of settlement is not, in itself, determinative of validity of seaman's release of action under 46 USCS Appx section 688, but inadequate settlement adds greatly to defendant's burden of proving that no advantage was taken of seaman's relatively weaker bargaining position. Morris v Fidelity & Casualty Co. (1970, ED La) 321 F Supp 320, affd (CA5 La) 441 F2d 1146.
Release and settlement of action brought under 46 USCS Appx section 688 will not be subject to injunctive relief, in absence of showing of irreparable injury and inadequate remedy at law; appropriate remedy in case where settlement has been gained by duress, coercion or fraud is to set aside settlement. Lewis v S.S. Baune (1976, CA5 La) 534 F2d 1115, reh den (CA5 La) 545 F2d 1299 and reh den (CA5 La) 545 F2d 1299 and reh den (CA5 La) 545 F2d 1299 and reh den (CA5 La) 545 F2d 1299 and (disagreed with Lampsis Navigation, Ltd. v Ortiz De Cortes (CA2 NY) 694 F2d 934 (disagreed with Re Complaint of Bankers Trust Co. (CA3 Pa) 752 F2d 874, 17 Fed Rules Evid Serv 128, 40 FR Serv 2d 1181, later proceeding (CA3 Pa) 775 F2d 545, 3 FR Serv 3d 159)).
District Court should have permitted seaman to proceed with action to recover additional damages for injuries, notwithstanding prior judgment which incorporated settlement reached by parties, where (1) prior judgment did not result from litigated determination of merits, (2) pleadings and joint stipulation of facts in prior action were prepared by employer and agreed to by seaman without advice of counsel, (3) court's prior judgment mirrored language used in stipulation of facts, and (4) absence of record of prior proceeding raised possibility that court merely rubber-stamped parties' extrajudicial agreement; in new action, employer may claim prior settlement as defense, but employer must bear burden of proving that seaman had informed understanding of significance of settlement when he signed it. Wink v Rowan Drilling Co. (1980, CA5 La) 611 F2d 98, cert den 449 US 823, 66 L Ed 2d 26, 101 S Ct 84.
Trial court correctly set aside release where seaman was young man of little education, did not have advice of counsel, did not have doctor of his own choosing, was ill, recalled no discussion of release, and stated that he did not understand that he had signed release. Premeaux v Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. (1946) 144 Tex 558, 192 SW2d 138.
400. --Tender of settlement amount
Jones Act seaman who claims that he has been induced by fraud to settle claim for personal injuries is not required as condition to prosecuting claim in court to return settlement proceeds to employer. Smith v Pinell (1979, CA5 La) 597 F2d 994.
To avoid release for personal injury under 46 USCS Appx section 688, money received in consideration for release must be returned or tendered and brought into court. Thornton v Puget Sound Power & Light Co. (1930, DC Wash) 49 F2d 347.
401. Effect of release
Seaman, who was in ill health before he embarked on voyage, and who executed release for consideration of thirty-five dollars, was thereby barred from future action for damages alleging illness resulting from damp quarters, no fraud or deception having been practiced on him in procuring release. McKenney v Swayne & Hoyt, Ltd. (1939, CA5 La) 104 F2d 20, 1939 AMC 803, cert den 308 US 601, 84 L Ed 502, 60 S Ct 138.
In libel against United States for damages for personal injuries sustained by seaman aboard vessel owned and operated by respondent, defense that libellant, after his injury, made claim for and accepted compensation and other benefits in substantial amount pursuant to 5 USCS section 8101 et seq. should stand; such defense was not insufficient because it merely alleged acceptance of compensation and not acceptance of compensation under order of commission. Militano v United States (1943, DC NY) 55 F Supp 904, 1944 AMC 1250.
Plaintiff who entered into state court-approved settlement which expressly released respondents from liability under Louisiana workmen's compensation act, 46 USCS Appx section 688, 33 USCS section 90 et seq., in tort, in admiralty, at common law, or otherwise, including all claims for wages, maintenance, and cure, or failure to pay wages, maintenance, and cure, was precluded from maintaining subsequent suit in federal District Court for personal injuries under 46 USCS Appx section 688, or under general maritime law. Comeaux v Two-R Drilling Co. (1964, ED La) 236 F Supp 735, 1965 AMC 1058.
Injured seaman has one claim under 46 USCS Appx section 688 for injuries and recovery from same accident against employer, and having entered into settlement, cannot bring second action against employer under 46 USCS Appx section 688. Hickman v Ohio Barge Line, Inc. (1974, WD Pa) 376 F Supp 1092.
402. --Of third parties
Where seaman was injured while crossing pier on his way to street for shore leave, due to negligence of third party, his release of third party for damages for tort did not operate as release of liability of owner of seaman's vessel for maintenance and cure. Jones v Waterman S.S. Corp. (1946, CA3 Pa) 155 F2d 992, 1946 AMC 859.
In action under 46 USCS Appx section 688, injured seaman may partially settle negligence claim with one of two alleged tortfeasors, sue and obtain verdict for total damages against nonsettling alleged tortfeasor, and receive judgment for difference between total damages and settlement. Billiot v Sewart Seacraft, Inc. (1967, CA5 La) 382 F2d 662.
Where purser injured on wharf while in performance of duties for shipowner gave wharf owner his covenant not to sue, he did not thereby waive any rights against ship. Gomes v Pereira (1941, DC Mass) 42 F Supp 328, 1942 AMC 481.
Effect to be given release signed by seaman is to be determined by intentions of party involved; release operates only against party to whom it was directed, and does not release other parties or potential defendants from liability. Leach v Mon River Towing, Inc. (1973, WD Pa) 363 F Supp 637.
Jones Act plaintiff who releases one joint tortfeasor but has viable claim against second joint tortfeasor may recover that portion of total damages proportionate to fault of second joint tortfeasor. Complaint of Chevron Transport Corp. (1985, MD Fla) 613 F Supp 1428.
403. --By third parties
Compromise and settlement entered into by wife of decedent seaman, individually and on behalf of decedent seaman's children, will serve as valid defense to action brought under 46 USCS Appx section 688 by mother of seaman, who had participated in valid settlement. Hassan v A. M. Landry & Son, Inc. (1963, CA5 La) 321 F2d 570, cert den 375 US 967, 11 L Ed 2d 416, 84 S Ct 486.
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