Baseball analogies seem right this time of year and so here it goes (in the voice of the Yankee's announcer, John Sterling, please): "And the 11th Circuit goes Boom! It is high, it is far and 'lo looks like the Supremes might be looking at this one." That's right, yesterday's 11th Circuit decision reversing the jury's decision in a Jones Act lawsuit tee's up an issue that's sort of academic, but dripping with real world implications.
The issue is whether a seaman can recover money damages under the Jones Act for an injury caused by excessive stress and an erratic sleep schedule. The 11th Circuit majority (it was not a unanimous decision) shook their heads and said nope, you need an injury caused by a physical peril to recover under the Jones Act handing the corporation an appellate win. Too bad 'cause I'm sure this won't do much to slow the corporate roll.
An elegantly written dissent neatly explains my problem with this outcome. The plaintiff pleaded and proved to a jury's satisfaction that the corporation's working environment which included average workdays of 16 hours caused physical damage to his heart. The jury, the dissenting opinion explains, was asked to identify whether the injury was "emotional" or "physical" and decided it was a "physical" injury. Deference, the dissent says, should've been given to the jury. Indeed, indeed.
Still, every situation is unique (and this is only one appellate court's opinion). If you're a Jones Act employee, speak to experienced admiralty counsel to understand your rights and remedies.
You can read a copy of the decision by clicking HERE.
Underway and making way.
By John Fulweiler