Federal Court Weighs in on Premises Liability Case Brought by Longshoreman’s Family

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that was filed by the surviving family members of a ship worker who died after he fell 50 feet when he stepped through a hole in the ship’s grating. The case presents a relevant issue to Florida boat accident plaintiffs insofar as it discusses how maritime law applies to cases against the owners and operators of large commercial vessels.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a man who worked as an independent contractor for a recycling company that purchases steel structures, disassembles them, and sells the metal for scrap. The company that employed the plaintiffs’ loved one purchased a decommissioned oil rig from another company that was in charge of decommissioning the rig.

Prior to the sale, an employee for the selling company told the company buying the rig about a potential danger on the ship regarding the presence of oil in the ship’s pipes. However, no one warned the buying company that there were several holes cut in the metal grating on the rig’s deck.

When the plaintiffs’ loved one boarded the rig to help take it apart, he inadvertently stepped into one of the holes as he was talking to another worker. He fell 50 feet to his death. The man’s family brought this case against both the company that employed their loved one, as well as the company that sold the rig. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of both companies, and the plaintiffs appealed the case as it related to the selling company only.

The plaintiffs argued that the company that sold the rig violated a duty it owed to their loved one. Specifically, the plaintiffs cited the “turnover duty,” which exists in maritime law and requires a ship owner to take certain precautions when selling or turning over possession of a vessel. The court discussed the turnover duty, explaining that a ship owner “owes a duty to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances to turn over the ship and its equipment in such condition that an expert stevedore can carry on stevedoring operations with reasonable safety.” Additionally, the ship owner has a duty to warn the stevedore of known dangers. However, if the danger is “open and obvious,” there is no duty to warn because it is assumed that a worker will notice the danger himself.

Here, the court concluded that the lower court erred when it held that the plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to survive a summary judgment challenge. The court viewed pictures taken of the hole in the grate, initially determining that it did constitute a hazard. The court then explained that, while a reasonable person may have noticed the hole, especially when viewed from above, when viewed at an angle, the hole was more difficult to see. Thus, the court held that the determination of whether the hole was “open and obvious” was a matter of fact that properly rests with a jury.

Have You Been Injured at Sea?

If you or loved one has recently been injured in a Florida boat accident, whether at land or at sea, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Florida personal injury lawsuit. At Friedman, Rodman & Frank, we have decades of experience representing clients and their families in all types of Florida boat accident cases. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call 877-448-8585. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

Florida’s Rule of Evidence Regarding Witnesses’ Inconsistent Statements, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 19, 2017.

Court Finds Question of Whether Defendant Had Knowledge of Dangerous Condition Was a Matter for the Jury, Rejecting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published January 5, 2018.

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