The Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that may have the effect of permitting more injured workers to fall within the realm of the Longshore and HarborWorkers Compensation Act (the “ Longshore Act”) but excluding them from the Jones Act. In Lozman v. City of RivieraBeach, the Court further addressed the issue of whether or not a particular structure is a “vessel.”
The opinion involved a houseboat that had no independent source of electricity, no steering mechanism and had French doors and ordinary windows (as opposed to watertight portholes). The Court stated “in our view a structure does not fall within the scope of this statutory phrase unless a reasonable observer, looking to the home’s physical characteristics and activities, would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water.” The Court, therefore, found the home not to be a vessel.
The issue in Lozman was whether admiralty jurisdiction was proper. Therefore, the decision may impact whether a worker is covered under the Longshore Act. If a worker is not a Jones Act “seaman,” he or she is likely protected under the Longshore Act. If, because of this case, certain workers are not Jones Act seaman because the structures they work on are not “vessels,” the Longshore Act will expand to cover those workers.
This case acts to limit what constitutes a vessel, which could take some workers out of Jones Act coverage. The Court stated that if the structure in question, is used to transport people or things over water, it is a vessel. The “reasonable observer” test stated in Lozman creates a practical approach to look at borderline cases and does away with the “anything that floats is a vessel” approach taken by some jurisdictions. At present, the case may only directly affect those workers on house boats or floating restaurants or businesses. However, it remains to be seen how individual jurisdictions will use the Lozman case’s definition of “vessel” to—perhaps unintentionally—include more workers under the Longshore Act.