Court Outlines Responsibilities of Dockowner in Employee Injury

A gangway is a pathway that connects the ship to the dock at which it has stopped. It is the means by which the crew and cargo of a ship are moved onto and off of the ship. Usually ships have detachable gangways that the ship crew put on the side of the ship when the ship is docked. Other times, docks have policies that require the ships to use gangways that are provided by the dock owner. As in any other legal field, the use of gangways are subject to rules of negligence and duties of care. The question in a recent case, Landers v. Bollinger Amelia Repair, was whether a dock owner was liable for a gangway provided to a ship under the stated policy of the dock owner that all ships must use gangways provided by the dock.

On June 12, 2006, the M/V Roseanna docked on the Bollinger Amelia Repair (BAR) dock. The reason for docking there was that the Roseanna’s hull had been breached, and it needed repair. The Roseanna had a gangway on its ship, but it was full of cargo and could not be used to access the dock. In any case, BAR had a policy of requiring all docked ships to use a BAR provided gangway. Thus, Landers, an employee of the Roseanna, and another Roseanna employee got a gangway from BAR and installed it.

The gangway was inspected by a Roseanna employee and was found to be in good condition. The gangway was used many times that day. The crew of the Roseanna discovered that the hull of the ship could be fixed without the aid of BAR and proceeded to do so. At the end of its use, the gangway was removed by Landers and another member of the Roseanna crew. Upon removal, the gangway sprung up hitting Landers in the back and causing injury. Subsequently, Landers brought suit against BAR arguing that due to BAR’s stated policy of requiring the use of BAR gangways, BAR was liable for the injury caused to him under general Maritime negligence law.

Landers’ argument was essentially that due to BAR’s policy, BAR stepped into the vessel owner’s shoes and thus assumed a maritime duty to provide a gangway free from hidden defects. The issue with Lander’s case was that there was no case law that backed his claim. There were two ways in which Landers could have brought his claim. The first way was under general state negligence law. The problem with this approach was that the statute of limitations to bring this suit had already run. The other means was under general maritime negligence law. As stated above, there was no precedent upon which Landers rested his case. He essentially was asking the Court to expand the law with his claim. Although there was no case exactly on point, it is a well established that the gangway of a ship comes under general maritime law. Further, it is well established that the vessel owner has a fundamental duty to provide its crew members with a reasonably safe means of boarding and departing from a vessel. Furthermore, this duty of the vessel owner, that the vessel owner provide a seaworthy ship, is absolute and nondelegable. Thus, under general maritime law, if the dock owner is held liable for the gangway, the dock owner would also have to be the ship’s owner. General maritime law is a law which relates to the vessel. Thus, it would be illogical to extend the protection of the crew members, which belongs to the vessel owner, to a dock owner unaffiliated with the ship or its crew. Thus, the Court held that there was no relationship between Landers and BAR to create liability under maritime law. Landers could bring suit under a state law theory, but Landers was out of luck on that claim because the statute of limitations had already run.

There may be many theories under which a case can be brought. Further, there may be different areas under which cases may fall. In Landers’ case, he could have brought a state law and maritime law claim. However, because he waited too long to seek legal counsel, his state law claim expired and he was left with only a maritime law claim, which ultimately failed. Filing under both areas of law would have increased his chances of success. If you have been injured on the job, it is important that you seek legal counsel.

Call the Berniard Law Firm to speak to an attorney who can help.