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Gautreaux v. Scurlock Marine, Inc.
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
107 F.3d 331, 1997 AMC 1521 (1997)
Scurlock Marine, Inc. (defendant) owned a vessel, the M/V Brooke Lynn, that was used to tow barges. The Brooke Lynn had two winches that pulled and secured the lines that attached barges to the vessel. Charles Gautreaux (plaintiff) was hired by Scurlock Marine to be a temporary relief captain on the Brooke Lynn. The permanent captain of the Brooke Lynn, Lance Orgeron, instructed Gautreaux on the operation of the winches, including how to insert a manual crank handle into one of the winches to unbind the winch if it became stuck. However, Orgeron allegedly failed to inform Gautreaux that he must remove the manual handle from the winch before restarting it. A few months after he was hired, Gautreaux used the manual crank handle to unbind the winch but failed to remove it before restarting the winch. The handle flew off and struck Gautreaux in the head, crushing his right eye and causing other severe injuries. Gautreaux sued Scurlock Marine for negligence under the Jones Act for failing to properly train him on the winches, and for the alleged unseaworthiness of the Brooke Lynn. In the court’s instructions on contributory negligence, it instructed the jury that a Jones Act plaintiff was only obligated to exercise slight care under the circumstances. The jury found that the vessel was seaworthy but found that Scurlock Marine had been negligent and was 95 percent responsible for the accident, and Gautreaux 5 percent. The court entered a judgment for Gautreaux, and Scurlock Marine appealed. The court of appeals affirmed the decision, but an en banc rehearing before the court followed. Scurlock Marine alleged that in apportioning fault, a Jones Act plaintiff should be held to act as a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Duhé, J.)
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