All Barges Are Vessels

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Q:    I am a millwright.  One day, I was assigned to work on a electricity-generating turbine upon a barge.  While stationed, the barge is afloat in the bay and connected to a power grid.  Once in ten years, it is moved to dry dock for maintenance.

The turbine was one of eight on the barge, powered by gas.  My supervisor told me to enter the turbine’s exhaust well, through a hatch, to weld some fixtures inside.

Using a ladder, I entered the hatch.  From there, I needed to climb down into the bottom of the exhaust well.  But my feet slipped, and I fell.  I’ve been told to bring suit under the Labor Law.

A: There exists a federal law called the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.  It applies to vessels, and seemingly all barges are vessels.  So your lawyer will worry that the federal Act ‘preempts’ the New York Labor Law’.

The Act clearly states that an action in negligence may be brought ‘against’ a vessel and that such remedy shall be ‘exclusive’ of all other remedies ‘against’ the vessel, except other remedies available under the Act.

Under the Labor Law, you can bring an action in strict liability, and need not prove the company’s negligence.  Under the Act, you must prove that the company is guilty of some degree of fault.

The federal statutory definition of a ‘vessel’ is any “contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”  Although this barge had been tugged to a maintenance station, the company can well say that the barge kept its status as a vessel – so that you must prove some degree of its fault.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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