Legal Updates on Maritime Workers' Personal Injury Claims: Southard v. Ballard Marine



Not all maritime workers qualify as seamen, yet those who do, benefit from special rights in case of a personal injury. The Southard v. Ballard Marine case tells the story of a commercial diver who attempted to claim seaman status. See what the dispute entailed.

Southard’s Personal Injury Case

Southard worked for Ballard Marine as a commercial diver, spending time on both wet-diving marine construction projects aboard their vessels and dry-diving projects. His dry-driving duties as a compressed air worker involved tunnel construction projects on land. On such a dry-diving project on the land, he sustained decompression sickness and neuropathy.

As a result of his injuries, the diver asserted claims in Washington federal court for:

Ballard Marine claimed that he was not a seaman. The dispute that followed centered around whether Southard had a substantial connection to a vessel or not. What did the Court decide?

The Seaman Status Dispute Outcome

The Washington federal court determined that:

1. The majority of the diver’s work was land-based on tunneling projects, and

2. His wet-diving work was not consistent and was only intermittent.

Southard didn’t meet the ‘vessel connection’ requirement, so the Court concluded that he was NOT a seaman. 

Seamen have special protection under maritime law and are entitled to the ‘trinity of remedies’. However, they must have a connection to a vessel that is both substantial in duration and nature to secure their status. 

If the circumstances allow, your Jones Act employer will always try to prove you are not a seaman. That is because your injury claim would be worth much less. It is important to hire an experienced maritime attorney to counter this defense.