Laws pertaining to maritime insurance and coverage for accidents on the water are not completely clear. In particular, workers often question whether land-based accidents have the potential to be covered through maritime insurance. Below, we take a close look at this question.
Analyze the highly-nuanced language intentionally used in insurance policies and you will find specific words are used to minimize ares of coverage. The insurance company's goal is to limit the number of claims filed by restricting coverage exclusively to accidents that occur on the water rather than land. However, with the right attorney in your corner, it might be possible to successfully argue the insurance coverage extends to areas of land just beyond water. The details of the unique accident and the merit of your attorney will ultimately dictate the outcome of your case.
It is particularly interesting to highlight a case in which a boating business in the Ponchatoula area attempted to extend its insurance policy coverage for accidents occurring on water to a crane accident that occurred on land. This attempt to extend the coverage was denied in a court of law. Here are the details of the incident: An Elevating Boats employee named Larry Naquin was using a crane on land when its pedestal broke, causing the crane to fall. Mr. Naquin leapt off the crane only to break both of his feet and endure an abdominal hernia. Another EBI employee was struck and killed by the crane. Mr. Naquin underwent numerous surgeries and attended physical therapy yet never improved to the point that he could return to work.
Mr. Naquin's attorney filed a lawsuit under the Jones Act. The act empowers employees who work on the water to sue their employer. The court determined Mr. Naquin qualified as a seaman according to the language of the Jones Act. The court also agreed EBI was guilty of negligence, meaning the company failed to provide Mr. Naquin with due care. Mr. Naquin was provided with a million dollar award for current, prior and subsequent physical pain and suffering, another million dollars for prior and subsequent mental pain and nearly half a million dollars to account for lost wages across posterity. Naquin's employer responded by filing an appeal, arguing the Jones Act is not applicable to Naquin's injury as it occurred on land as opposed to water. Fortunately, Naquin's employer lost its appeal. However, part of the court verdict was vacated as a result of the appeal.
The case was subsequently sent to the trial court. The trial court allowed the employer to file a complaint against the insurance companies, alleging these insurers violated their insurance contract when denying Mr. Naquin's claim. The overarching argument was the insurer's denial failed to properly defend the employer and cover indemnity payments related to the accident. In this case, there was not an applicable federal maritime law so the court relied upon Louisiana law. Louisiana law states insurance policies must be interpreted with the “ordinary” meaning of language unless there is a technical meaning to the words in question. In the end, the appellate court ruled the insurance policy's indemnity provision was the primary factor in deciding if the trial court was in the right.
The bottom line is the insurance company in this case and all similar cases insist insurance policies cover accidents that occur on the water as opposed to land-based accidents. The appellate court in Naquin's case agreed with the insurer's argument, ruling that the crane was positioned on land so it is unrelated to activity on a water-based vessel. Therefore, the insurance policy cannot be extended to cover accidents that occur on land. However, the court ruled the employer's actions as the crane operator were responsible for Naquin's harm.
If you are injured while working on or near the water, you need a talented maritime and offshore accident attorney on your side. Reach out to our legal team as soon as possible after your maritime injury. We will review the details of your case and zealously advocate on your behalf until justice is served in the form of financial compensation.