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NINTH CIRCUIT COURT RULES THAT INJURED SEAMAN’S CLAIM AGAINST AMERICAN SEAFOODS MUST GO TO TRIAL

November 25, 2009

Reversing a Seattle District Court decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that an injured Alaska fish processor has presented sufficient evidence that his case must go to trial.

Samson Ili brought a Jones Act injury claim against American Seafoods based upon the theory that it was negligent to require crewmen to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for months at a time. Ili was injured at the end of his shift, after months of work, while lifting 70-lb bags of product. The vessel reportedly took a roll and Ili lost his balance while handling the heavy bag, resulting in his injury. The Ninth Circuit ruled that a reasonable jury could find that these work conditions were a breach of American Seafood’s duty to provide a safe work environment. The Court held that even if the 16-hour-day work shift were customary in the fishing industry, that this does not establish a lack of negligence. The Court further noted that the long hours could be determined to be evidence that the American Seafoods vessel, American Triumph, was under-manned at the time of the crewman’s injury. The case will now be returned to the District Court where a jury will determine whether or not American Seafoods was negligent and their vessel unseaworthy.

Few Jones Act cases are subject to being dismissed upon motions for summary judgment. In almost all cases an injured seaman should have the right to have his case tried before a jury. In deciding motions to dismiss a Jones Act injury claim, all evidence must be taken in a light most favorable to the injured seaman. Ili v. American Seafoods reinforces this longstanding principle that seamen are entitled to all favorable inferences when vessel owners and employers attempt to dismiss their injury claims.