Under the Jones Act, the evidentiary proof a seaman needs to present to establish a causal connection between his employer’s negligence and his injury is very slight. A Louisiana Appellate Court has reaffirmed this standard in Bancroft v. Mitchell Offshore Marine, 2010 WL 198219 (2010 La. App. 3 Cir.). The crewman in Bancroft claimed in part that he aggravated a preexisting back injury in a collision between his vessel and another vessel. The crewman had a long history of medical treatment for back pain prior to the collision. After the collision, the crewman had a low back fusion. Based upon the evidence presented at trial, the Court found there was no connection between the shipboard accident and the need for subsequent surgery.
Although, at first blush, Bancroft appears to be a victory for the defense, the precedent set by the Court reaffirms long standing legal precedent relating to a seaman’s burden of proof on causation. In reviewing the case, the Louisiana Appellate Court unequivocally declared the legal principle that whatever injury the seaman suffered, including an aggravation of a preexisting injury, needed only to be established by “slight” evidence. This causal relationship has been frequently referred to as the “featherweight” burden of proof as to causation in a Jones Act negligence case. The Appellate Court in Banccroft was divided as to whether or not the injured seaman had proven the necessary causal link, and the trial court seems to have rejected the injured seaman’s evidence of an increase in his symptoms and impaired working ability. Therefore, the verdict was affirmed after increasing the award for pain and suffering for the back injury for increased pain caused by the collision.