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MCDERMOTT INTERNATIONAL v. JON C. WILANDER

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 89-1474 111 S. Ct. 807, 498 U.S. 337, 112 L. Ed. 2d 866, 59 U.S.L.W. 4091, 1991.SCT.41136 <http://www.versuslaw.com> decided: February 19, 1991. MCDERMOTT INTERNATIONAL, INC., PETITIONERv.JON C. WILANDER CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT. James B. Doyle argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner. Jennifer Jones Bercier argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief was J. B. Jones, Jr.*fn* O'connor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Author: O'connor


CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.

O'connor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Author: O'connor

 JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether one must aid in the navigation of a vessel in order to qualify as a "seaman" under the Jones Act, 46 U. S. C. App. ยง 688.

I

Jon Wilander worked for McDermott International, Inc., as a paint foreman. His duties consisted primarily of supervising the sandblasting and painting of various fixtures and piping located on oil drilling platforms in the Persian Gulf. On July 4, 1983, Wilander was inspecting a pipe on one such platform when a bolt serving as a plug in the pipe blew out under pressure, striking Wilander in the head. At the time, Wilander was assigned to the American-flag vessel M/V Gates Tide, a "paint boat" chartered to McDermott that contained equipment used in sandblasting and painting the platforms.

Wilander sued McDermott in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, seeking recovery under the Jones Act for McDermott's negligence related to the accident. McDermott moved for summary judgment, alleging that, as a matter of law, Wilander was not a "seaman" under the Jones Act, and therefore not entitled to recovery. The District Court denied the motion. App. 19. In a bifurcated trial, the jury first determined Wilander's status as a seaman. By special interrogatory, the jury found that Wilander was either permanently assigned to, or performed a substantial amount of work aboard, the Gates Tide, and that the performance of his duties contributed to the function of the Gates Tide or to the accomplishment of its mission, thereby satisfying the test for seaman status established in Offshore Co. v. Robison, 266 F.2d 769 (CA5 1959). App. to Pet. for Cert. 16-17. The District Court denied McDermott's motion for judgment based on the jury findings. Id., at 10-16.

The case then proceeded to trial on the issues of liability and damages. The jury found that McDermott's negligence was the primary cause of Wilander's injuries, but that Wilander had been 25% contributorily negligent. The jury awarded Wilander $337,500. The District Court denied McDermott's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, id., at 19-21, and both parties appealed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the determination of seaman status, finding sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding under the Robison test. 887 F.2d 88, 90 (1989). McDermott asked the court to reject the Robison requirement that a seaman "[contribute] to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission," Robison, supra, at 779, in favor of the more stringent requirement of Johnson v. John F. Beasley Construction Co., 742 F.2d 1054 (CA7 1984). In that case, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit -- relying on cases from this Court requiring that a seaman aid in the navigation of a vessel -- held that seaman status under the Jones Act may be conferred only on employees who make "a significant contribution to the maintenance, operation, or welfare of the transportation function of the vessel." Id., at 1063 (emphasis added).

The Fifth Circuit here concluded that Wilander would not meet the requirements of the Johnson test, but reaffirmed the rule in Robison and held that Wilander was a "seaman" under the Jones Act. 887 F.2d, at 90-91. We granted certiorari, 496 U.S. 935 (1990), to resolve the conflict between the Robison and Johnson tests on the issue of the transportation/navigation function requirement, and now affirm. II

A

In 1903, in The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158, this Court summarized the state of seamen's remedies under general maritime law. Writing for the Court, Justice Brown reviewed the leading English and American authorities and declared the law settled on several propositions:

"1. That the vessel and her owners are liable, in case a seaman falls sick, or is wounded, in the service of the ship, to the extent of his maintenance and cure, and to his wages, at least so long as the voyage is continued.

"2. That the vessel and her owner are, both by English and American law, liable to an indemnity for injuries received by seamen in consequence of the unseaworthiness of the ship . . . .

"3. That all the members of the crew . . . are, as between themselves, fellow servants, and hence seamen cannot recover for injuries sustained through the negligence of another member of the crew beyond the expense of their maintenance and cure.

"4. That the seaman is not allowed to recover an indemnity for the negligence of the master, or any member of the crew . . . ." Id., at 175.

The Osceola affirmed a seaman's general maritime right to maintenance and cure, wages, and to recover for unseaworthiness, but excluded seamen from the general maritime negligence remedy.

Congress twice attempted to overrule The Osceola and create a negligence action for seamen. The Seamen's Act of 1915, 38 Stat. 1164, dealt with proposition 3 of The Osceola, the fellow servant doctrine. Section 20 of the 1915 Act provided: "That in any suit to recover damages for any injury sustained on board vessel or in its service seamen having command shall not be held to be fellow-servants with those under their authority." 38 Stat. 1185. The change was ineffective. Petitioner in Chelentis v. Luckenbach S. S. Co., 247 U.S. 372 (1918), a fireman on board the steamship J. L. Luckenbach, attempted to recover from the ship's owner for injuries resulting from the alleged negligence of a superior officer. The Court explained that the 1915 Act was "irrelevant." Id., at 384. The Act successfully established that the superior officer was not Chelentis' fellow servant, but ...


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