Sunday, May 18, 2014

Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co. case brief summary

Stewart v. Dutra Construction Co. (2005)
  • Issue of whether a dredge is a vessel or not
  • The superscoop dredge was being used to dig a trench for a tunnel. Stewart was seriously injured when on one of the scows. The superscoop used its bucket to move the scow and the scow collided with the super scoop causing Stewart to fall.
  • Section 3 of the revised statutes of 1783:
    • Vessel is a watercraft “used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water”
    • This is the default definition of vessel throughout the US code based on this case
  • A barge permanently affixed to the land is not a vessel
  • A vessel is any watercraft practically capable of maritime transportation, regardless of its primary purpose or state of transit at a particular moment (including means of propulsion)
  • Example: jack up rigs are not vessels because the function was not intended for movement (casinos in Biloxi are permanently moored to land and therefore are not vessels in navigable waters which precludes workers from asserting they are Jones Act Seaman)
  • Purpose seemingly critical in analysis
    • First Test: special purpose of the structures (if the a primary purpose of the craft is to transport passengers, cargo, or equipment from place to place across navigable waters, then the structure is a vessel)
      • Robison: court here held that the term vessel had a wide range of meaning under the Jones Act, and therefore, genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether the drilling barge qualified as a vessel
      • Gray: the court concluded that the special purpose drilling craft are vessels as a matter of law
    • Second Test: the business for which floating structure dry docks are engaged (certain structures that float upon the water are not vessels); consists of dry docks and similar structures that maritime law has never considered vessels, at least when secured to land, to be vessels
      • Belden: concluded that the structure platform was not designed for transportation of passengers, cargo, or equipment across navigable waters and that the status of the craft was governed by the proposition that, as a matter of law, a floating dry dock is not a vessel when it is moored and in use as a dry dock
      • Bernard: addressed whether a “work punt” which the plaintiff used to guide sheet pilings to construct a flood wall qualified as a vessel; used solely as a platform to break the cement and guide the sheet pilings while men on land lowered the sheets; court held that the platforms were not vessels since: (1) the structures involved were constructed and primarily used as work platforms; (2) they were moored or otherwise secured at the time of the accident; and (3) although they were capable of movement and were sometimes moved across navigable waters in the course of normal operations, any transportation function they performed was merely incidental to their primary purpose of serving as work platforms

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