The owner of a 164-foot yacht was granted summary judgment in a wrongful death case where a crewmember engaged the bow thruster at the time an invisible, unknown and unannounced diver was scrubbing the hull. The shipowner had contracted with a commercial diver company to clean its hull in June 2017. An exact date and time were never coordinated or communicated to the shipowner. When the diver eventually showed up, he did not identify himself or notify any crewmembers of his presence. Without making any contact with the crew, the diver proceeded to enter the water without  using a diver flag to mark his presence. Shortly thereafter, the crew began performing their daily tasks, and a thruster was activated on the yacht, which killed the unseen diver. 

Judge Rosenberg of the Southern District of Florida ultimately held that the shipowner owed no duty to the diver under the Scindia duties that govern relations between a vessel and contracted LHWCA employees. The court explained that the Scindia duties could not be triggered where a vessel has no knowledge the contractor has already commenced operations. Thus, the initial “turnover duty,” which requires a shipowner to provide a reasonably safe workspace for the benefit of LHWCA workers, did not apply, which precluded recovery under the other two Scindia duties (“active operations” duty and the duty to intervene). Accordingly, the court held that the shipowner owed no duties to the diver at the time of the incident.

The motion was written by HM&B partner Jules v. Massee, with associates Whittni M. Hodges and Brandon P. Volk . Click here to read more.

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