Injuries extended back over several duty ships

Edward Arthur worked as a merchant seaman when he sustained injuries on four different ships. He sued his employers, Maersk, Inc., and Dyn Marine Services of Virginia Inc., for negligence under the Jones Act, also referred to as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Later, Arthur realized that these companies operated as agents of the United States Navy, with the United States being the only proper defendant in the lawsuit. Arthur was granted leave to file an amended complaint, naming the United States as the responsible party, requesting that this new claim would relate back to the claim he initially made as to avoid a statute of limitations bar. The District Court denied his request on the ground that Arthur delayed in seeking leave to amend the complaint.

During his time on these ships, between May 1999 and December 2000, he suffered injuries to his knees on multiple occasions. In May 1999, one of the first injuries he received happened during a lifeboat inspection when the ship, the “U.S.N.S. Stalwart Tagos-1,” rolled — tilted unexpectedly from its bow to stern. He received a similar injury in October of the same year on the “U.S.N.S. Capable.” After one more knee injury on the “U.S.N.S. Littlehales” and further aggravating his injuries by performing other tasks on the “U.S.N.S. Assertive,” he was rendered incapable of continuing his work.

Met the two-year statute of limitations for his recent injuries

Arthur commenced a civil action lawsuit in May 2002, two years after his first injury but less than two year after he sustained injuries on the Assertive, within the proper time frame of the statute of limitations. Arthur stated the companies failed to maintain the decks that resulted in his injuries and raised claims of unseaworthiness and for maintenance and cure.

After the complaint was served and answers were filed by September 2002, a status conference was held in October 2002, where the Public Vessels Act was explored in greater detail after Maersk and Dyn Marine brought it to the court’s attention. The Public Vessels Act permitted legal action against the United States for damages caused by a vessel owned by the U.S. In the case presented here, Maersk and Dyn Marine presented their stance that the U.S. Navy was in fact responsible for Arthur’s injuries, and they were not held liable because they didn’t own the ships.

The District Court urged them to file motions within ten days to address the issue they presented and avoid the costs of litigation. Neither company filed in a timely manner: Dyn Marine didn’t procure the required copy of the operational contract between the company and the Navy and Maersk didn’t make its disclosures until December 2002. These disclosures didn’t reach Arthur’s lead counsel until mid-December. Arthur wasn’t able to file a motion to stay proceedings until February 2003, where his lead counsel said the contracts were not disclosed in a timely manner and that additional time was required to determine whether the contracts supported the defense.

When the United States received notice of the action filed against it, Arthur filed a motion for leave to amend in April 2003, to continue the case with the U.S. as the new defendant. The amended complaint repeated the allegations stated in the previous complaint, but the U.S. filed a motion to dismiss the complaint because it wasn’t filed within the two-year statute of limitations. The Court approved the motion and denied Arthur’s claim, even though Arthur’s original claim was made back in 2002.

Should the seaman have known the Navy owned the ship?

Courts argued that Arthur, “as an experienced seaman,” should have been aware that the Navy owned the ship in the first place and that he had no excuse to wait as long as he did (January 2003-April 2003) to continue his lawsuit.

If someone is injured at sea, it’s important for them to seek the assistance of an experience maritime attorney who can inform them of their legal rights and ensure the statute of limitations time frame hasn’t been missed.

Why it is important to hire an experienced maritime law attorney

This case demonstrates that injury cases filed under the Jones Act are not always clear cut. Having an experienced Admiralty Law attorney can make the difference between a successful case or appealing a denied claim. In Florida, turn to Barnes Trial Group maritime law attorneys in Tampa. We represent clients in Jones Act injury claims cases worldwide.