Illi Samson v. American Seafoods Co., LLC

[B]Case Name: [/B][I]Ili Samson v. American Seafoods Co., LLC
[/I][B]Date Decided: [/B]November 25, 2009
[B]Court: [/B]United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Alarcon, Judge Kleinfeld, Judge Clifton*[B]Background:
[/B]The plaintiff, Illi Samson (“Samson”), appealed the district court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of American Seafoods Co. (“American”). The district court held that, there were no genuine issues of material fact whether by requiring Samson to work 16 hour work days for months at a time, that American was negligent or created an unseaworthy condition leading to Samson’s injuries.

American was aware that it required 16-hour shifts, with no days off, for months at a time on Samson’s boat, the [I]F/T American Triumph[/I]. Another employee, Alan Davis, stated that other boats use 12 and 14-hour shifts and that the company, American, was experiencing with shorter shifts to see if those shifts were better for the seaman.

*Davis also testified that the 16-hour shifts were shocking to him when he first entered the industry standard. However, Davis grew to accept this as the industry standard.

Samson fell during the final hour of the 16-hour shift and had previously complained to American Seafoods that his shift was too long and caused him to be exhausted. Samson’s job involved lifting and flipping 70 lb trays of frozen fish.

At the time of his injury, Samson tried to shift his weight when his legs gave out under him as the boat rolled.

Samson filed this action under Jones Act negligence, and unseaworthiness. American moved for summary judgment and the district court granted it. Samson appealed to this Court.

[/B]Did this Court find that Ili presented issues of material fact whether requiring Ili to work 16-hour shifts, months on end, was negligent and that the negligence caused Ili’s injury?

[/B]There was no dispute that Samson was a seaman and that American owed him a duty to provide a safe work environment under the Jones Act. Therefore, American owed Samson a duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace for Samson.

Moreover, this Court found that a reasonable jury could have concluded that requiring Samson to work a 16-hour shift was a breach of American’s duty to provide a safe work environment. This Court relied on Davis’s deposition in which he stated that American used shorter shifts on other boats in an experiment to see if those shifts are better for the seamen.

This Court also found that Samson established sufficient causation to survive summary judgment on the Jones Act claim. The Court noted that the Jones Act claim standard for causation only requires that the negligence merely be a cause, [I]however slight[/I], of the injury.

This Court held that the length of the shift and Samson’s duties, including flipping 70 lb trays of frozen fish, created a genuine issue of material fact whether the length of his shift played any role, however slight, in causing his fall and subsequent injury.

Also, the Court considered Samson’s unseaworthiness claim. Both parties conceded and it is undisputed that Samson is a seaman and thus, entitled to a warranty of seaworthiness. This Court noted that lack of adequate crew is a basis for unseaworthiness and that requiring a crew to work 16-hour shifts for months on end could indicate that the ship is not adequately manned with crew to perform its duties in a seaworthy manner.

Finally, the Court considered whether requiring the crew to work 16-hour shifts every day was a [B]substantial factor [/B]in causing Samson’s injury. This standard requires a showing of a higher degree of causation than a Jones Act negligence claim.

This Court recognized that the same evidence supporting Samson’s Jones Act claim also supports his unseaworthiness claim, and rather than parsing and affirming/denying the district court’s ruling in parts, this Court reversed and remanded Samson’s claim for a jury to determine.

Ultimately this Court reversed the granting of summary judgment.

The fishing industry is extremely demanding on its employees. This often requires working 12 even 18 hour days for long periods of time. [/B]

[B]Employers in Jones Act cases may assert that this is a custom followed by the industry and thus, show they were acting reasonably. However, this Court noted that even industry customs can be negligent. This employer, working the plaintiff’s ship for 16 hour days months at a time, may have known it created a dangerous condition. Therefore,* this Court found there were genuine issues of material fact whether they acted negligently in over-working the plaintiff and whether having an overworked crew created a dangerous condition. [/B]

[B]Steve Gordon [/B]


This case is of interest because it solidifies that a work shift that is longer than the normal work shift can be a ground of negligence against the employer and it demonstrates the relaxed causation standard.

[LEFT]In a famous railroad injury case involving FELA law. FELA was enacted in 1908 and was the “precursor” to the Jones Act. Adhering to [I]Rogers v. Missouri Pacific Railway Co. 352 U.S. 500 (1957), The Ili Court stated:

[I]“Ili established sufficient causation to survive summary judgment on the Jones Act claim as well. The standard for causation in Jones Act claims is very low, and requires only that the negligence be a cause, however slight, of the injury. Rogers v. Missouri Pacific Railway Co., 352 U.S. 500, 506 (1957).”[/I][SIZE=4]