The “Perils of the Sea”-man Status Question: The Fifth Circuit Falls Behind FELA’s Advancements in Remedies in Favor of the Continued Confusion Surrounding the Seaman Definition

L. Taylor Coley | Note
Larry Naquin worked four years for Elevating Boats, L.L.C. (EBI), as a vessel repair supervisor on a fleet of lifeboat vessels, spending 70% of his time inspecting, cleaning, painting, performing engine repairs, and replacing damaged parts. These vessels were usually jacked up, docked, or moored, but two or three days a week, he would do his work while the boats were moving to a different part of the canal. Occasionally, Naquin was dispatched to work on vessels in open water. He spent the other 30% of his employment working in the shipyard’s fabrication shop or operating its land-based crane. On November 17, 2009, the shipyard crane he was operating suddenly failed, causing the crane to topple onto a nearby building. Naquin was able to jump from the free-falling crane house but sustained a broken left foot, a crushed right foot, and a lower abdominal hernia. His cousin’s husband, another EBI employee, was crushed to death by the crane. In November 2010, Naquin filed a Jones Act suit, alleging that EBI was negligent in its construction and/or maintenance of the shipyard crane.

After a three-day trial, a jury determined that Naquin was a Jones Act seaman and awarded him $400,000 for future lost wages, $1,000,000 for past and future physical pain and suffering, and, having been presented with evidence of Naquin’s emotional injury regarding his relative’s death, another $1,000,000 for past and future mental pain and suffering. EBI filed motions for a new trial, a new trial on damages, judgment as a matter of law, and remittitur. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Naquin’s classification as a seaman was proper because he had an employment connection to a vessel in navigation that was substantial in both duration and nature, but that the district court’s instruction on emotional damages was erroneously based on a third party’s injury, and so remanded for a new trial on damages. Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., 744 F.3d 927, 930, 2014 AMC 913, 914 (5th Cir. 2014).