Legal Updates on Maritime Workers' Personal Injury Claims: Knight v. Kirby Offshore



In rough seas, there could be many complicated situations involving unexpected hazards. The Knight v. Kirby Offshore case shows how a seaman’s own fault affects his recovery. But how is this fault measured? See the decision of the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

Knight’s Personal Injury Case  

 Andrew Lee Knight worked as a crewmember aboard Kirby’s offshore tug the M/V SEA HAWK.  The vessel captain ordered him to change out a line on the stern deck in four-foot seas and high winds, which caused the vessel to roll. After Knight removed the old line, he placed it on the deck but lost his balance in the rough seas. He stepped on the line injuring his ankle. 

The crewman brought a Jones Act negligence claim against the vessel owner to recover damages for his injuries. The district court attributed:

  • 50% fault to Knight 
  • 50% fault to Kirby.

Knight was found at fault for failing to watch his footing and placing the old line in his work area, while the vessel owner was found at fault for completing the operations in rough seas.

The Degrees of Negligence Reviewed 

 In the case of contributory negligence, your vessel employer won’t pay full compensation. However, you can still dispute to what extent the fault was yours. So did, Knight.

The crewman appealed the district court’s decision. He contended he was not at 50% fault given that he was following the Captain’s orders. The Fifth Circuit found that a seaman cannot be found negligent for carrying out a specific order from his supervisor but may be found so for following a general order. The final decision reduced the percentage from 50% to 20% comparative fault in causing his own injury.

The important takeaway for seamen is that your employer will always try to avoid liability by blaming you for your own injury even when you were simply following orders. Talk to an experienced maritime attorney to secure the fair compensation you deserve.