Blake R. David of the maritime law firm Broussard & David, LLC obtained a jury verdict of $3,885,911.69 on behalf of a welder who sustained injuries when a vibrating hammer fell and struck him. The verdict, awarding general damages and pre-judgment interest was affirmed by the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal. On January 23, 2017, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the application for writ of certiorari on general damages and seaman status – allowing the award to stand.
Plaintiff Ernest L. Guidry, was a welder for Defendant Tanner Services, LLC for approximately two years before he was seriously injured. The defendant was awarded a contract to build a bulkhead on Grand Isle. Tanner had both land division and maritime division crews. Plaintiff had previously worked for Tanner as a shop welder in Eunice, Louisiana, but was reassigned to the Tanner Marine Division before his injury. The project utilized three barges and two tugboats on which a floating mat and other supplies were housed. After the reassignment, Plaintiff spent his working time on the water performing preparatory work for the project, which included welding connectors, welding sheet piles, and cutting holes in the sheet piles. Plaintiff also attended job safety analysis meetings each morning on vessels with the marine division crew. Plaintiff spent approximately 90% of his time working on the water, particularly the floating mat. Plaintiff was severely injured when the vibrating hammer used to drive in piles fell and struck him. The strike caused Plaintiff to fall into the water and caused multiple injuries, including a crushed foot, a concussion, herniated discs, depression, anxiety, the amputation of four fingers, and total and permanent disability.
Defendant contended Plaintiff was not entitled to seaman status under the Jones Act, barring recovery under that statute for the serious and permanent injuries Plaintiff sustained. However, both the trial court and Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal disagreed. Both courts found Plaintiff contributed to the vessel’s function and accomplishment of the vessel’s mission and the plaintiff’s connection to the vessel fleet was substantial in duration and nature because of the amount of time he spent on the floating mat and the work he performed on the mat. These facts entitled Plaintiff to seaman status under the Jones Act, making that statute an avenue of recovery for the severe injuries Plaintiff received. Additionally, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal found that the award of general damages and prejudgment interest on the damages was not an abuse of discretion.