Carter McEuen v. Lower Illinois Towing Co., et al

[B]Case Name: [/B]Carter McEuen v. Lower Illinois Towing Co., et al.
[B]Date Decided: [/B]February 11, 2010
[B]Court: [/B]U.S.D.C. Central District of Illinois
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Scott
[B]Citation: [/B]2010 WL 569900 (C.D.Ill.) [B]Background:
[/B]Before this Court was defendants’, Cargill Incorporated, American Commercial Lines, motions for summary judgment.

Plaintiff, Carter McEuen, was* injured while opening a roll-top barge cover as a deckhand aboard the M/V Tom Edwards, owned and operated by Lower Illinois Towing Company.* Lower Illinois was McEuen’s employer.

At the time of his injury, McEuen had almost 20 years of experience as a seaman.* Lower Illinois was engaged in the business of switching, cleaning, and fleeting barges for defendant American Commercial Barge lines and, on occasion, performed work for Cargill, including opening roll-top covers on barges at when Cargill was busy or had trouble rolling the covers themselves. Lower Illinois would directly bill Cargill for those services.

Roll-top barges can sometimes be problematic. The covers may come out of the tracks, making them difficult to roll, causing them to get stuck. The pins, holding the covers into place, sometimes fall down while the covers are being rolled back making them stop in their tracks.

On the day of the incident, Cargill had Lower Illinois help them open roll-top covers on their barge so that the cargo box could be filled with grain. While the roll-top barges were being loaded, grain and dust began to accumulate on the deck. Cargill employees testified that Cargill cleaned the barges after they were finished being loaded.

McEuen prepared to close the covers over the half of the Barge that had been filled and open the remaining covers. During this process, however,on e of the covers split and the covers became stuck.

McEuen went to the stern end of the barge, climbed onto the stuck cover and attached a cable to the lift ring using the same kind of hook and shackle device that had been used earlier to roll the covers from the bow end of the Barge.*

As he climbed down from the cover, he felt his knee pop. Despite this, McEuen finished rolling the covers and later returned in the afternoon to close all the covers.

McEun went to the doctor and ended up having to correct a tendon tear.

McEun brought this suit alleging Jones Act, maintenance and cure against his employer Illinois Southern. McEun brought claims of general maritime negligence and unseaworthiness against Cargill and American.

[/B]Did this Court grant Cargill’s and American’s motions for summary judgment?

[/B]Cargill argued that McEuen cannot sustain an unseaworthiness claim against it because Cargill did not own or charter the barge in question. McEuen countered, arguing that Cargill owed him a duty of seaworthiness by virtue of its use and control of the barge. However, this Court recognized that the only way in which a party can acquire status as an owner is if the party is a demise, or bareboat, charterer.

This Court found that Cargill used the barge consistent with a time or voyage charter because the barge was only used for a “specific service” and Cargill did [I]not assume exclusive possession, command, and navigation[/I].

Accordingly, the action of unseaworthiness against Cargill, a time/voyage charterer, did not stand.

Second, Cargill argued that McEuen’s negligence claim should not stand because it did not owe McEuen a duty of care. McEuen countered, arguing that Cargill knew roll-top covers were problematic, it was reasonably foreseeable McEuen would have to climb on top of the covers because some were not accessible by ladder and Cargill was responsible for preventing grain dust from accumulating on the barge’s deck.

This Court found Cargill owed McEuen a duty of care. Cargill hired McEuen’s employer to open roll-top covers on the barge and that Cargill was billed and paid for these services. By merely hiring Lower Illinois employees, knew they would be required to climb on top of covers in order to roll them and it was reasonably foreseeable someone would injure themselves. Cargill had a duty to keep the barge in a safe condition while it was being loaded. This Court denied Cargill’s motion for summary judgment for McEuen’s general maritime negligence claim.

American argued that the duty to provide a seaworthy vessel did not extend to seamen who are not member’s of the vessel’s crew. Because American never employed McEuen they did not owe him a duty of care or warranty of seaworthiness.

The elements of maritime negligence are the same as general negligence. A plaintiff must establish:[/B]

B Defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care [/B]

B Defendant breached the duty [/B]

B The breach of duty caused plaintiff’s injuries and [/B]

B The plaintiff sustained damages [/B]