McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander

PETITIONER: McDermott International, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Wilander
LOCATION: Oklahoma City Board of Education

DOCKET NO.: 89-1474
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 498 US 337 (1991)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1990
DECIDED: Feb 19, 1991

ADVOCATES:
Jennifer J. Bercier - on behalf of the Respondent
James E. Doyle - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 03, 1990 in McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 19, 1991 in McDermott International, Inc. v. Wilander

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-1474, McDermott International verus Wilander will be announced by Justice O’Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes to us on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The question in the case is whether one must aid in the navigation of a vessel in order to qualify for recovery for injury sustained as a seaman under the Jones Act.

In a unanimous opinion, we today, hold there is no such requirement.

The Jones Act provides a cause of action and negligence for any seaman injured in the course of employment.

The Act does not define seaman, but that term is a maritime word of art.

In the absence of contrary indication, we assume Congress used the word as admiralty courts had used at under general maritime law.

On a review of that maritime case law, we think it was settled at the time of the passage of the Jones Act back in 1920, that maritime law did not require that a seaman aid in navigation of the vessel.

The source of the conflict we resolve today is this Court’s inconsistent use of an aid and navigation requirement in various cases arising under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Jones Act.

We believe the better rule is to define seaman under the Jones Act solely in terms of the employee’s connection to a vessel in navigation.

This rule best explains our case law and is consistent with the pre-Jones Act interpretation of seaman, and with the land based, sea-based distinction Congress created with the Longshoremans Act and the Jones Act.

The key to seaman status, we hold, is employment related connection to a vessel and navigation.

A necessary element of that connection is that the seaman performed the work of a vessel.

It is not necessary that a seaman aid in navigation or a contribute to the transportation of the vessel, but a seaman must be doing the ship’s work.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.