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Marine and Energy News Alert: Fifth Circuit Affirms Holding That Jones Act Employer Did Not Breach Duty to Provide Medical Care

February 07, 2019

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently issued an opinion that affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a seaman’s Jones Act claim seeking damages for the employer/vessel owner’s alleged breach of its nondelegable duty to provide prompt and adequate medical care.

Plaintiff, David Randle, was employed as a seaman aboard the M/V DELTA FORCE by vessel owner, Crosby Tugs, L.L.C., when he suffered a stroke in the service of the vessel. Randle began to feel fatigued and lightheaded in the process of unloading groceries onto the vessel and subsequently went to his bunk room to rest. Randle’s fellow crewmember heard noise from Randle’s bunk room and discovered him incapacitated on the floor and unable to communicate. The crewmember immediately notified the captain, who quickly called 9-1-1.

Acadian Ambulance Services responded to the call and transported Randle to Teche Regional Medical Center. Crosby did not instruct Acadian to take Randle to Teche Regional nor did Crosby hire, authorize, or contract with Teche Regional to provide medical care to its seamen. Teche Regional physicians failed to diagnose the stroke and did not timely administer the appropriate medication, which could have improved Randle’s post-stroke recovery. As a result, Randle was permanently disabled and needs constant custodial care.

Randle brought suit against Crosby alleging that Crosby negligently failed to provide prompt and adequate medical care. The lower court granted Crosby’s motion for partial summary judgment in favor of Crosby dismissing Randle’s Jones Act negligence claim. Randle appealed the lower court’s decision and argued that Crosby, through its employees, acted negligently and breached its duty to provide adequate medical care by merely calling 9-1-1 in response to his stroke and that Crosby is vicariously liable for the Teche Regional physicians’ alleged medical malpractice.

The Fifth Circuit explained that breaches of the duty to provide medical care is fact intensive and varies by injury and the availability of medical facilities. For example, a vessel owner breaches its duty when it fails to get a crewmember to a doctor when reasonably necessary and the vessel owner is reasonably able to do so. Additionally, the duty is breached when the vessel owner takes its seaman to a doctor it knows is not reasonably qualified to care for the injury. Based on the facts, the Fifth Circuit found that Crosby did not breach its duty to provide medical care because Crosby’s employees selected a course of action reasonably calculated to get Randle to a medical facility that would be able to treat him and simply because the physicians may be faulted does not mean that Crosby is directly liable for failing to procure adequate medical care. Further, the Fifth Circuit held that Crosby as an employer was not vicariously liable for the alleged medical malpractice of the Teche Regional physicians because Crosby did not choose the on-shore physicians to treat Randle.

The case is Randle v. Crosby Tugs, L.L.C., 2018 WL 6628032 (5th Cir. Dec. 19, 2018). Click here to read the entire decision.