Federal Court Limits Amount Injured Maritime Workers Can Recover from Third Parties

When a worker is injured on the job, it is often because the employer was negligent. But sometimes a third party, and not the employer, is to blame. That’s what happened to Robert dePerrodil, a maritime worker whose injury was caused by a third party.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides compensation to maritime workers who are injured during the course of their employment on the navigable waters of the United States. If the injury is caused by a third party, the worker can seek additional compensation. However, a recent lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit limited what the worker is entitled to recover.

Third Party Liability

First, it’s important to note that a third party’s negligence does not get the employer off the hook. An injured maritime worker’s employer is still liable for the worker’s medical treatment. But the employer, like the worker, now has a cause of action against the third party.

The Lawsuit

Robert dePerrodil is a 70-year-old oil field consultant who works for Petroleum Engineers, Inc. He was injured while onboard a boat owned and operated by another company, Bozovic Marine, Inc. Even though Bozovic is not dePerrodil’s employer, the company still owed him a duty of reasonable care.

Bozovic breached that duty by failing to warn dePerrodil of bad weather conditions (and by not telling him to move to the passenger area), by not staying abreast of the weather conditions, and by operating the boat erratically. Moreover, dePerrodil would have been injured even if he had been warned of the rough seas, because the boat’s captain was driving so negligently. DePerrodil sued Bozovic for the injuries he sustained.

Even though dePerrodil’s medical expenses amounted to $186,080.30, the insurance providers only had to pay $57,385,50. The issue in the case was whether dePerrodil could recover the full amount billed, including the portion that was written off by the insurance providers.

The federal district court said yes, dePerrodil was entitled to recover the entire amount. Bozovic appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

The Fifth Circuit applied the maritime collateral source rule, which prevents wrongdoers like Bozovic from reducing their liability by the amount the plaintiff recovers from other sources. The goal is to prevent wrongdoers from getting off too easily, even though plaintiffs end up recovering more money than they actually had to pay.

In this case, the Fifth Circuit held that the collateral source rule clearly applied, making Bozovic liable for the expenses paid. But should Bozovic be liable for the unpaid expenses? The Fifth Circuit said no. Bozovic should not have to pay for medical expenses that were written off and not paid. Thus, the Fifth Circuit determined that the district court got it wrong: Bozovic was only liable for the paid medical expenses.

Contact Us Today

If you are a maritime worker who has been injured on the job — whether by your employer or by a third party — contact the Patrick Yancey Law Firm today for an initial consultation about your case. We are eager to assist you immediately.