Vessel Owner Breaches Duty to Provide Prompt Medical Treatment

Author: Jacques P. DeGruy

Judge Vance of the Eastern District recently entered partial summary judgment in favor of an injured seaman, finding that the seaman’s employer violated its duty to provide prompt medical care.  Gene Billiot was the captain of the STACEY A, a vessel owned and operated by Two C’s Marine.  One evening at dinner, Billiot dropped his fork, and immediately began to experience numbness in his hand.  His deckhand asked if Billiot wanted him to call their boss, the owner of Tow C’s, Carl Carrier.  Billiot refused, and stated he would see how he felt the next day. The next morning, he woke up and discovered his right arm was “dead.”  He immediately called Carrier and told him he was having a stroke.  The deckhand also spoke to Carrier, and advised that Billiot’s “lip was pulling.”  Carrier asked Billiot if he needed an ambulance, and Billiot stated he did not.  Billiot also advised he wanted to go to the hospital in Thibodaux, although the vessel was in Empire, Louisiana, 125 miles away.  Billiot was again asked if he wanted an ambulance by the company’s “dock man”, but he again refused.  Carrier left his house in Thibodaux in the morning, and drove to Empire to pick up Billiot.  Carrier and the deckhand had to carry Billiot to the truck.  Once underway, Carrier advised Billiot that the hospital in Gretna, Louisiana was much closer.  Billiot did not want to go to that hospital, and insisted he go to Thibodaux so that he could be near his family.  They arrived at Terrebonne General Hospital later that evening.

Billiot asserted in his lawsuit that Two C’s Marine negligently failed to seek prompt assistance for him “despite the fact that, as the day progressed, he was no longer able to ambulate, and had difficulty speaking” and that he has sustained “severe and permanent personal injury to his body causing great pain and suffering, preventing him from attending his usual occupation, causing past and future wage loss, loss of earning capacity, permanent disability and loss of enjoyment of life.”

Billiot filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to rule that Two C’s violated its duty to provide prompt medical care.  In granting the motion, Judge Vance first relied on prior Supreme Court cases holding that the Jones Act employer owes the injured seaman a duty to provide prompt medical care.  She then noted that Carrier violated his own safety policy, because the company safety manual provides that in case of injury, “the most important step is to obtain medical treatment immediately… call the Coast Guard and an ambulance if necessary.”  Judge Vance went on to find that although plaintiff refused an ambulance and closer treatment, Carrier should have realized the seriousness of plaintiff’s medical issues, and ignored his request to be taken to Thibodaux.  Carrier himself admitted that he did not follow protocol, and stated that he should have ignored plaintiff’s request and taken him to Gretna.  Thus, the court found that by his own admission, Carrier did not “act with prudence” to provide prompt care, and ruled in favor of plaintiff on that issue.

Billiot v. Two C’s Marine, L.L.C., CIV .A. 10-3046, 2011 WL 2937237 (E.D. La. 2011)