Borrowed Servant Doctrine Does Not Equate to Assignment Change

To qualify for seaman status a worker must establish that his duties “contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission,” and “have a substantial connection to a vessel in navigation both in duration and nature.” Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347 (1995). As a rule of thumb, the worker must spend in excess of thirty percent of working time aboard a vessel to satisfy the substantial connection prong of the test. To determine the seaman status issue, courts often confine their analysis of a worker’s employment to periods after he receives a change in work assignment in which his essential duties change.

In Wilcox v. Wild Well Control, Inc., the Fifth Circuit addressed the interplay between the borrowed servant doctrine and the seaman status test. The plaintiff was loaned by his employer to Wild Well Control, Inc. (the borrowing employer) to work as a welder on a platform decommissioning project offshore. He was allegedly injured from a gas explosion on the well and subsequently filed suit under the Jones Act. The Plaintiff argued that seaman status should be determined from the time that he began to work for Wild Well, rather than the total course of his employment. The Fifth Circuit rejected this argument, relying on precedent that seaman status was to be determined by the totality of a worker’s employment with his employer. The critical take away from this decision is that a change in work assignment does not necessarily occur each time that an employee is loaned to a borrowing employer.

Wilcox v. Wild Well Control, Inc.