The Jones Act Can Cover Seaman for Injuries That Occur While Coming to or Leaving the Vessel Before or After Work Begins.

Courts have long recognized the right of seamen to recover for injuries suffered during ingress/egress, commuting, and shore leave. The Supreme Court of the United States extended Jones Act recovery to land-based injuries in 1943, and since then recovery has become progressively more expansive. O’Donnell v. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, 318 U.S. 36 (1943). Today, “a seaman is as much in the service of his ship when boarding it on first reporting for duty, quitting it on being discharged, or going to and from the ship while on shore leave, as he is while on board at high sea.” Braen, 361 U.S. at 132, citing, Aguilar, 318 U.S. at 736-37.

Whether a seaman is “in the course of employment” is a function of “1) the degree of control the employer-vessel owner had over the seaman at the time of injury; and 2) whether the seaman, at the time of injury, was on personal business or on a mission for the benefit of his employer or attending to the business of the employer.” Lee v. Mississippi River Grain Elevator, Inc., 591 So.2d 1371, 1373 (La. App. 1991).

Courts have consistently held that a seaman need not be onboard the vessel in order to be in the “course of employment.” Aguilar, 318 U.S. 724; Braen, 361 U.S. 129; Williamson v. Western Pacific Dredging Corp., 441 F.2d 65, 66 (9th Cir. 1971). “When the seaman’s duties carry him ashore, the shipowner’s obligation is neither terminated nor narrowed,” and responsibility of the shipowner “should not be narrowed to exclude from its scope characteristic and essential elements of that work.” Aguilar, supra at 732, 735. In holding vessel owners liable for on-shore injuries, the Aguilar court cautioned against “cast[ing] upon the seaman hazards encountered only by reason of the voyage.” Id. at 733.

As a rule, an employee is deemed to be in the course of employment while going to or from her place of work by the only practicable route of immediate ingress and egress. See, e.g., Marceau v. Great Lakes Transit Corp., 146 F.2d 416 (2nd Cir. 1945). In Marceau, the court recognized that injuries that occur during ingress and egress to the vessel in an area controlled by a seaman’s employer, or adjacent property, are within the scope of employment:

The plaintiff was acting under orders when he returned to the ship. Consequently at the time of the accident he was not only acting in the course of his employment but suffered his injuries while on property in the possession and under the control of the defendant as lessee and over which the plaintiff had to pass in order to return to his work. Under the decisions a man is acting in the course of his employment when coming to or returning from work, and upon the employer’s premises or upon adjacent property if approaching by a customary route.

Id. at 418 (emphasis added). A seaman acts as much in the course of her employment or in the service of his ship when boarding or going to and from the ship as she is while on board at high sea. Wilson v. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Co., 841 F.2d 1347, 1355 (7th Cir. 1988) (an act may be within the scope of employment when it is “a necessary incident of a day’s work”–i.e., not undertaken for a private purpose and having some causal relationship to the job); Pensiero v. Bouchard Transportation, Co., 2008 AMC 363 (2007) (plaintiff in the course and scope of employment when injured while passing over tugs owned by another company to gain access to the vessel). See also Bavaro v. Grand Victoria Casino, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23095 (N.D. Ill. 1998) (“many cases hold that an injury to an employee while entering upon and leaving the employer’s premises in the course of arriving at or departing from work is a necessary incident to employment and thus within its course.”)

Indeed, ingress and egress are just the type of “hazard encountered only by reason of the voyage” that courts have held is in the course of employment. Id. at 733; Braen, 361 U.S. 129; Pensiero v. Bouchard Transp. Co., 2008 AMC 363 (E.D.N.Y. 2007). There is no meaningful distinction between seamen that live on the vessel and seamen that live ashore in the context of ingress and egress; both types of seamen must gain access to the vessel. Pensiero, supra. “[W]here the brown-water seaman is on a direct path to resume his duties on board, and is injured on that path, there is no reason to create [a distinction between brown-water and blue-water seamen].” Id.

Even commuting, when the seaman is acting for the benefit of the employer or is under the control of the employer, is within the “course of employment.” Williamson, 441 F.2d at 66 (Seaman injured in car accident while commuting was in the course of employment because “commuting was part of the job [the seaman] was employed to perform”); Vincent v. Harvey Well Service, 441 F.2d 146, 147-49 (5th Cir. 1971) (Injury in car accident 40 miles from vessel while commuting was in the course of seaman’s employment because the vessel “had no quarters suitable for sleeping, eating or relaxing during off-duty shift hours. The men physically had to leave the rig daily… In all of this the employer had a most vital interest.”).

If you were injured while going to or leaving work, you should consult with an experienced Jones Act lawyer to determine whether you may be covered under the Jones Act and/or general maritime law at the time of your injury. If you are covered, you may be entitled to additional benefits and compensation for your injuries.

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