Fifth Circuit ruled that a welder, whose duties were performed on rigs that were jacked up, was not a seaman as a matter of law; Sanchez v. Smart Fabricators of Texas, L.L.C., No. 19-20506 (5th Cir. Mar. 11, 2020).

March 12

This published decision clarifies the requirement that a worker must have a connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels that is substantial in nature. Gilbert Sanchez asserted that he was a seaman because he worked as a welder on jack-up rigs. Sanchez satisfied the elements of the test for seaman status that his work contributed to the function or mission of the vessels and that his contribution to the vessels was substantial in duration. However, as the rigs were jacked up and out of the water most of the time, the Fifth Circuit ruled that Sanchez could not satisfy the element that his work was substantial in nature—that his duties took him to sea (regularly exposed him to the perils of the sea). Almost all of Sanchez’s work on drilling rigs was while they were jacked up on the sea floor—a workplace that “was stable, flat, and well above the water.” Sanchez, did not perform marine functions, such as operating or navigating the rigs, and, as a welder, was injured when he tripped on a pipe welded to the floor, a circumstance unrelated to any perils of the sea. Therefore, Sanchez failed the requirement for seaman status that his contribution to the vessel or fleet of vessels must be substantial in nature.

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