• The U.S. Supreme Court's Decision in Lozman Has Not Significantly Affected the Vessel Status of Platforms Operating in the Gulf of Mexico
  • August 19, 2013 | Author: Matthew S. Lejeune
  • Law Firm: Jones Walker LLP - New Orleans Office
  • As we reported in the January 2013 E*Lert, the U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a decision in Lozman v. The City of Riviera Beach, Florida that had the potential to affect the types of structures that were classified as "vessels" under general maritime law and the Jones Act. Specifically, the Court adopted a new test for vessel status providing that a structure is not a "vessel" unless a reasonable observer, looking to the structure's physical characteristics and activities, would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water.

    As expected, plaintiffs have recently begun using the Lozman decision as a basis to contest the vessel status of a number of types of platforms and other structures that were consistently found to be non-vessels prior to the Lozman decision. In two recent cases in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Mooney v. W&T Offshore, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30091 and Warrior Energy Services Corp. v. ATP Titan, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57269, plaintiffs argued that a tension leg platform and a floating production facility, both of which were moored to pilings in the seabed, were vessels under the new test propounded by Lozman.

    In deciding that the tension leg platform and floating production facility were not vessels, the courts relied upon a long line of pre-Lozman cases finding that these types of platforms were not vessels. The courts found that the Supreme Court's holding in Lozman did not overrule and had no effect upon this prior case law. In fact, rather than casting doubt on the platform's non-vessel status, Lozman and its emphasis on the impressions of a reasonable observer reinforce the courts' determination that the platforms are not vessels.

    These recent rulings should make platform owners and offshore service providers breathe a little easier as it appears that Lozman will not significantly impact the vessel status of offshore platforms and, thus, will not substantially affect the rights and liabilities of offshore employers with regard to personal injury claims. The impact that Lozman may have on closer cases, such as those involving quarter barges and other types of more easily transported structures, is yet to be determined as the courts have not had an opportunity to issue decisions in these types of cases. While the decisions discussed above are limited to platforms, they do at least provide an indication that Lozman will not have the far-reaching effects on vessel classification that were feared by everyone in the offshore industry.