Jonathan Janes v. Grand River Navigation Company, Inc

[B]Case Name: [/B]Jonathan Janes v. Grand River Navigation Company, INC.
[B]Date Decided: [/B]September 30, 2009
[B]Court: [/B]U.S.D.C. Eastern District of Michigan
[B]Judge: [/B]Judge Murphy III
[B]Citation: [/B]2009 WL 3153074 (E.D. Mich.)[B]Background:
[/B]Plaintiff, Jonathan Janes (“Janes”) brought this action against owner and operator of a freighter M/V Maumee Grand River Navigation Company (“Grand River”). Janes suffered personal injuries when he was assisting in moving a cable on the deck of the freighter.

Janes was preparing Grand River’s freighter for unloading when he was injured. Janes was asked to assist a few other crewmembers in changing the cables of a crane, used to unload the ship’s cargo. While the crew pulled the unloading cable, Janes lost his balance and slipped and fell on the deck landing and injuring his right shoulder.

Janes brought this action, under the Jones Act, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure. Janes sought summary judgment on the issue of liability that Grand River was negligent per se in the accident of Janes and that such negligence caused Janes’ injury.

[B]Issue: [/B]Did the Court rule in favor of Janes’ motion for summary judgment holding Grand River liable per se for Janes’ injuries sustained while working aboard a freighter owned by Grand River?

[/B]Janes argued that in Grand River requiring him to assist in the unloading of the vessel, that Grand River violated certain manning requirements under 46 U.S.C. §8104(e) and that because it is interpreted as a “safety statute” the violation should be deemed to constitute negligence per se under relevant precedent.

Moreover, Janes contended that courts have found where Jones Act employer violates [I]any safety statute[/I], the employer is liable [I]without showing of negligence [/I]because the violation constitutes negligence per se.

§8104(e) provides that a “seaman may not be” (1) engaged to work alternatively in the deck and engine department or required to work in the engine department if hired for deck department duty and vice versa.* Janes argued that the courts have concluded the purpose of this statute is to promote safety at sea for the benefit of the ship’s crew.

Janes argued this rule applies because the incident occurred when he was employed in the engine department and ordered to work on the deck. Moreover, Janes argued that he was involved in a procedure he was not ordinarily involved in because the vessel was undermanned and therefore, claimed unseaworthiness.

Grand River countered that (1) Janes was not a member of the engine department but of the “maintenance” department. Also, Janes (2) failed to show that the statutory violation caused the injury and that a showing (3) of unseaworthiness required more than merely showing a Jones Act claim and that Janes’ injury was a proximately caused by the unseaworthiness.

Finally, Grand River countered that even if the statute applied, it was not in violation because it only forbids employers from requiring members of the engine department to work on deck and does not forbid seamen from working on deck and vice versa.

This Court first, found that if Grand River violated §8104, and that such manning caused the injury then it would find Grand River liable as a matter of law. *

The Court found that employing Janes to perform limited deck and engine duties was not an engagement “to work alternatively in the deck and engine departments” and therefore did not violate §8104(e)(1)(A). The Court, using tools of statutory construction gave effect to Grand River’s interpretation of the Act because it gave effect to all the words of the subsection.

Also, the Court found that Grand River did not violate the statute because employment of maintenance personnel to perform duties in either the engine or deck deparment is not barred by the Coast Guard’s reasonable interpretation of the statute.

Accordingly, this Court denied Janes’s motion for summary judgment because he failed to show that Grand River violated the safety statute.

Under the Jones Act if a plaintiff shows that a defendant employer (1) violates a safety statute intended to protect the well being of employees and (2) such violation caused plaintiff’s injury, then the employer will be negligent per se and liable under the Jones Act. [/B]

[B]Steve Gordon [/B]