Court denies Louisiana Machinery's request to dismiss seaman's suit regarding fire on ship near Trinidad

By Takesha Thomas | May 9, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently denied a Reserve, Louisiana-based construction and heavy machinery supplier's request to dismiss a seaman's negligence case against it regarding a fire on a ship off the coast of Trinidad. 

In the April 29 ruling, U.S. District Chief Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown denied Louisiana Machinery's motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit filed by Robbin E. Blyth. 

Louisiana Machinery had argued that claims filed by Blyth "under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago should be dismissed as a matter of law because choice-of-law factors weigh in favor of applying general maritime law."

But Brown said that because Blyth's claim occurred in Trinidad, "summary judgment is not appropriate because there is a genuine issue of material fact in dispute."

Blyth filed suit in May 2017 against Offshore Service Vessels (OSV) claiming he suffered injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder after being trapped aboard the vessel when a fire occurred in the engine room, court papers said. Blyth, a citizen and resident of Panama, was employed as as seaman with OSV at the time of the incident. 

Blyth subsequently filed suit against Louisiana Machinery, Caterpillar Inc. and Massy Cat LLC in April 2018 under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and general maritime law, court filings said. Louisiana Machinery contracted with OSV to make repairs on the vessel where the fire occurred.

Louisiana Machinery argued that the tort claim should be dismissed because the contract between the company and OSV was signed in the United States, therefore the case should only be argued in the U.S. Also, the company contends that "while the wrongful act occurred on a vessel 35 miles off the coast of Trinidad, this factor is accorded little weight in traditional maritime cases, in which the locality of the ship changes constantly.” 

Louisiana Machinery argued that since Blyth filed suit in U.S. courts there is no reason why the matter should be redressed in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Brown disagreed, finding that, "If the vessel was controlled and operating in Trinidad, and if Louisiana Machinery performed and coordinated its day-to-day maintenance on the vessel in Trinidad, then this factor may weigh in favor of applying the laws of Trinidad. Therefore, the deposition testimony presented by plaintiff creates a question of fact related to where the day-to-day operations regarding the control of and maintenance on the vessel occurred." 

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