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DAVIS v. SEDCO FOREX
December 15, 1986
THOMAS C. DAVIS and KAREN DAVIS
The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEWCOMER
This case involves an alleged injury to the plaintiff which he received while working on an movable oil rig located off the coast of Angola. A preliminary legal issue is whether the plaintiff was a "seaman" under the Jones Act. 46 U.S.C. § 688. Both sides briefed the issue.
The injury allegedly occurred on board the rig Sedneth Luanda (hereinafter the "Sedneth"). See Exhibit A, attached to Plaintiffs' Supplemental Memorandum. At the time of the accident the Sedneth was located 30 kilometers off the coast of Angola.
The Sedneth was registered as a vessel under the flag of Liberia. (Exhibit A attached to Plaintiffs' Supplemental Memoranda). The parties do not dispute that the Sedneth is a movable offshore drilling rig which is able to move from site to site and drill in the ocean. Rigs of this type are referred to as "jack-up rigs." During drilling operations, the rig is supported by three legs which rest on the ocean floor. In order to move from site to site the rig must be floated and then towed by tug boats. In February, 1985, the rig was moved over ten miles from one drilling site to another. See Exhibit D to Defendant's Memorandum.
Thomas Davis served as an assistant driller on board the Sedneth. Plaintiff was aboard the Sedneth when it was moved in 1983 and 1984. Davis and his fellow crew members worked on the rig in shifts which could last up to thirty straight days. As an assistant driller, Davis took care of the mud cleaning equipment, maneuvered the drilling unit, and secured hoses. Davis deposition at 30; Todd deposition at 28. The assistant drillers also worked with the rig superintendent and the barge engineer to coordinate the moving and navigation of the rig. Atkins deposition at 24-7; Todd deposition at 26. Their duties included the watching the draft markings on the side of the hull and keeping the barge engineer informed as to how low the rig sat in the water. Brais deposition at 15-6. The assistant drillers also passed lines to the tugs and secured the lines. Davis was also charged with examining the hull to ascertain whether all the valves and plugs of the rig were secured in a watertight position. Id. Lastly, Davis assisted in securing the objects on the Sedneth's deck. Todd deposition at 28.
At the outset, the court notes that in Gianfala v. Texas Co., 350 U.S. 879, 100 L. Ed. 775, 76 S. Ct. 141 (1955) (per curiam decision) the Supreme Court, in a case involving an injury to a crew man working on an off-shore oil rig, reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals which had found the plaintiff not to be a seaman and directed the district court to reinstate its judgment for the plaintiff.
In determining who is a seaman the Third Circuit has announced the following three-part standard:
b) there must be a more or less permanent connection between the the plaintiff and the ship; and
c) the worker be aboard the vessel primarily to aid in navigation.
Griffith v. Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Corp., 521 F.2d 31, 36 (3d Cir. 1975), citing to 1A Benedict on Admiralty § 21 (7th ed. 1973); see also McNeill v. J.E. Brenneman ...
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