The law supports teamwork

A “helping hand” is one of those phrases that is easy to say but hard to practice. However, if you get injured and seek compensation, a court may dismiss your claim based on your failure to request assistance.

Consider the real-life situation of an industrious food-service supervisor who worked aboard a ferry and decided to clean the walk-in refrigerator. As she worked her way aft, she encountered a keg of beer, which she wrestled out of the way without seeking assistance. She claimed that she injured her back in doing so and subsequently sued the ferry owner under the Jones Act. She claimed, among other things, that the ferry owner breached his duty to provide a reasonably safe work place by not providing a dolly to move the keg, or to provide crewmembers to assist.

Before the food-service supervisor could even get before a jury, the court dismissed her negligence claim. The ferry owner produced evidence showing that she had previously been warned to ask for assistance, and standard operating procedures aboard the ferry specified that all crew were to work together. There was also a specific standing order that all deck crew were to assist the food-service staff. Thus, in the court’s estimation, she would not have been injured had she simply sought assistance, which she admitted she did not do.

This kind of outcome is not unusual. For instance, a maritime worker was injured while attempting to move steel cables by himself. When he subsequently brought suit alleging that lighter cables should have been used, the court found his failure to ask for assistance from available crewmembers precluded his negligence claim. Similarly, where shipboard procedures encourage teamwork but are ignored, maritime workers have faced difficulty in proving their negligence claims.

Be it pride, enthusiasm or the rush of a deadline, the compulsion to do it yourself is always present. However, a maritime worker should keep in mind that a court might scrutinize any subsequent claim with an eye toward determining whether assistance should have been sought. Personal injuries that could have been avoided through teamwork might ultimately be subject to dismissal by a court.


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Workboat Staff

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