In order to qualify for coverage under the Jones Act and other general maritime law remedies, a seaman must be in the service of the vessel at the time of the injury or illness. Whether a seaman is in the service of the vessel, is a recurring issue in maritime injury litigation, but is broadly construed by the courts in favor of coverage for the seaman.
The responsibility of vessel owners to seamen for maintenance, cure, and unearned wages is to be construed “broadly, when an issue concerning … scope arises”. Aguilar v. Standard Oil Co., 318 U.S. 724, 729 (1943). The U.S. Supreme Court held, “the words ‘in the course of his employment’ as used in the Jones Act were not restricted to injuries occurring on navigable waters, … they were broadly used by Congress in support of ‘all the constitutional power it possessed’”. Braen v. Pfeifer Oil Transp. Co., 361 U.S. 129, 130-31 (1959). “[T]he nature and foundations of the liability require that it be not narrowly confined or whittled down by restrictive and artificial distinctions defeating its broad and beneficial purposes. If leeway is to be given in either direction, all the considerations which brought the liability into being dictate it should be in the sailor’s behalf.” Aguilar, 318 U.S. at 735.
Whether a seaman is “in the course of employment” is a function of “1) the degree of control the employer-vessel owner had over the seaman at the time of injury; and 2) whether the seaman, at the time of injury, was on personal business or on a mission for the benefit of his employer or attending to the business of the employer.” Lee v. Mississippi River Grain Elevator, Inc., 591 So.2d 1371, 1373 (La. App. 1991).