Court rules on lawsuit involving man who picked up wet electrical cord

By Charmaine Little | May 9, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – On April 23, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted in part and denied in part Alliance Offshore, LLC and Alliance Liftboats, LLC’s motion for partial summary judgment in a personal injury lawsuit against them.

A seamen for Alliance, Brandon N. Vaughan, sued the company because he alleged to have been injured by picking up an extension cord from a pool of water. Vaughan, who said he was only following the orders of Captain Brad Lowe, claimed that when he picked up the cord he was shocked and suffered numbness on the entire right side of his body. 

Vaughan said he had injuries that didn’t just cause him to get medical treatment but also stopped him from being able to work. He blamed Alliance and said it failed to have a safe work environment. He sued under the Jones Act and filed unseaworthiness claims.

Alliance said Vaughan could not show negligence under either of his claims. The company accused him of being careless when he grabbed a cord with his hands without confirming it was safe. It added that it did not have the responsibility to warn Vaughan about “open and obvious” dangers that a wet cord could impose.


Alliance said that Vaughan's unseaworthiness claim also falls short as “the cord’s presence in the puddle was the result of an ‘isolated, personal negligent act,’ not the pervasive acts necessary to establish an unseaworthy condition,” according to court documents. They also said the cord was loose because Vaughan did not do his job and secure it.

The court pointed out that for Vaughan to prevail in a Jones Act lawsuit, he would have to show evidence that the condition was unsafe as well as proof that the owner was aware of it. “Alliance has not demonstrated that it is completely free of fault as to make appropriate summary judgment in its favor,” said the court. “Alliance contends that Vaughan’s own negligence caused his injuries.” 

Vaughan’s testimony that the cord was on the deck for several days prompted the court to point out that if the danger was obvious to Vaughan, it should’ve been obvious to the captain who told him to pick it up. Considering this and other conclusions, the court denied summary judgment for the Jones Act.

When it came to unseaworthiness, the court said, “To establish a claim of unseaworthiness, ‘the injured seaman must prove that the [vessel] owner has failed to provide a vessel … which is reasonably fit and safe for the purposes for which it is to be used.’” Unfortunately for Vaughan, the court said he failed to provide evidence to challenge Alliance’s argument that the cord was an isolated act of negligence. The court ultimately said Alliance was owned summary judgment on the unseaworthiness claim.

U.S. District Judge Barry W. Ashe ruled on the case.

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