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Home Jones Act Defenses Victor Billiot v Cenac Towing Co.
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Jones Act - Defenses
Tuesday, 19 May 2009 19:45

Defenses: Equitable Estoppel- Concealment of Material Facts

Case Name: Victor Billiot v Cenac Towing Co.
Date of Judgment: 2nd April 2009
Court: U.S.D.C. -E.D. Louisiana.
Judge: District Judge Vance
Citation: 2009 WL 910654 (E.D.La.)

Background: Plaintiff, Victor Billion ("Seaman") sued defendant, Cenac Towing Co. ("Employer") for claims under the Jones Act and maritime law.

Seaman worked aboard the M/V Nan Cenac ("vessel"). He started work in August 2006 after first undergoing a routine physical. On the questionnaire, seaman failed to disclose his medical conditions of Hemophilia B and persistent abdominal pains.

Because of these conditions, seaman told the vessel's Captain he could not pull heavy rope without a winch. However, one day seaman pulled on a heavy rope and suffered severe gastrointestinal injuries. The hospital later confirmed he had erosive duodenitis. The injury forced him to leave his job as a seaman to work through his continued health problems.

Seaman filed suit for claims under the Jones Act and maritime law. The employer moved for summary judgment on seaman's claims.

Issue: Whether summary judgment should be granted on (1) seaman's Jones Act negligence claim, or (2) unseaworthiness claim


(1) Under the Jones Act, the seaman must show that the employer's negligence played a part, no matter how small, in producing the injury for which he seeks damages. The employer's negligence must be the "legal cause" of the injury.  

The Court followed the expert testimony of Dr. Lutz, who has treated seaman since he was a child. She concluded that the seaman's gastrointestinal injury was not related to the erosive duodenitis that he was diagnosed with at the hospital. She noted that the duodenitis had been developing over a period of time as a result of the seaman's abdominal pains.   

Thus, the seaman was precluded from recovering under the Jones Act, as the employer was not the legal cause of his injury.

(2) The burden of proof is higher in an unseaworthiness claim. The seaman must prove that the unseaworthy condition played a substantial part in causing his injury. Also, the injury must either be a direct result or a reasonably probable consequence of the unseaworthiness.

Seaman could not show that the captain delayed in getting him to shore to seek medical treatment for his injury.  He had told the Captain he wanted to lie down and "ride it out."  Thus, there was no evidence that the Captain or anyone on the vessel played a substantial part in causing his injury.

Therefore, the Court held that partial summary judgment was appropriate on seaman's Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims.


Under the Jones Act, a seaman must show that their employer's negligence had a part, no matter how minimal, in producing the injury they are suing for.  Without showing the employer was the "legal cause" for the injury, a plaintiff will be unable to recover damages under the Jones Act.

An unseaworthiness claim is harder to prove because the seaman must establish that their employer was the "proximate cause" of their injury.  Seaman must show that the unseaworthy condition: (1) played a substantial part in actually causing the injury, and (2) the injury was the direct result or reasonably probable consequence of the unseaworthiness.

Steve Gordon




Last Updated on Monday, 19 October 2009 21:37

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