Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Thomas C. Fitzhugh III, left, and John Schwambach, right, are partners in the Houston office of Schouest, Bamdas, Soshea & BenMaier. Courtesy photos

Personal injury lawyers have haggled for two centuries to create a workable definition of “seaman” for their personal injury cases. Despite myriad cases over this time, the U.S. Supreme Court has never defined the word. Congress has been silent also. This has left the definition to the lower courts, and they have struggled with the word. The Supreme Court’s most recent forays into the issue have focused on what is a vessel and in defining who is a longshoreman and thus not a seaman.  See, e.g., Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, 568 U.S. 115 (2013); Harbor Tug & Barge v. Papai, 520 U.S. 548 (1997). Attention has so focused on the definition of “seaman” in Jones Act cases that most have overlooked the definition of the word “seaman” in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is more restrictive than that commonly used in personal injury cases.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., is a New Deal statute originally designed, in part, to create more jobs by requiring employers to set overtime pay at 50% more than the regular hourly rate. The idea was that employers would hire more workers to avoid paying overtime. It had little impact on the huge unemployment problem of that time, but it is ingrained in our labor law today. A number of specifically listed workers are not subject to the overtime pay requirement. Seamen are exempt from this statute. See 29 C.F.R. § 213(b)(6). The statute does not define “seamen,” but the Fifth Circuit limited this exemption to individuals performing nautical duties. Walling v. W.D. Haden, 153 F.2d 196 (5th Cir. 1946). At the time of that decision an individual, for personal injury purposes, had to aid in the navigation of a vessel. That requirement was later jettisoned by the Supreme Court in McDermott International v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337 (1991).

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.

Texas LawyerBook

Texas Lawyer carries the latest news from law firms, the courts, in-house legal departments and the state capital.

Get More Information

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.