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A Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 688, seaman is obliged to exercise only slight care under the circumstances for his own safety at the time of the accident. Historically Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 688, employers and seamen were expressly bound to a standard of ordinary prudence. When the phrase "slight negligence" came to stand for the duty of care owed by employers and employees, however, employers were understood to be held to a higher degree of personal responsibility as to their employees, and plaintiff-seamen were understood to be held to a lower degree of personal responsibility for themselves.
Appellant Scurlock Marine Inc., purchased a vessel and hired appellee employee Charles D. Gautreaux as relief captain. Plaintiff qualified for the position, having worked as a tanker man since the early 1980s and having recently earned a United States Coast Guard master's license. While serving as captain, appellee relieved the tanker man on duty and began off-loading of the barge in tow. When the barge began to rise in the water, appellee attached the manual crank to the winch motor, and began turning the crank while simultaneously pressing the electric ignition switch. When the motor started, the manual crank struck appellee on the right side of his face, crushing his right eye and inflicting other severe injuries. Appellee brought suit against appellant. Plaintiff sued defendant alleging that his injuries were caused by its negligence and the unseaworthiness of the vessel. His primary complaint was that defendant failed to properly train him in the use and operation of the electric towing winch and its manual crank handle, thereby not providing him a safe place to work. The jury returned a verdict in favor of appellant on his claim under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C.S. § 688, and negligence claim. The district court also denied appellant's assignment of error on its instructions to the jury charging that appellee was bound only to a duty of slight care for their own safety. Appellant sought review of the district court's jury instructions on the duty of care.
Did the district court err in its jury instructions on the duty of care?
The court, in light of the discussion about the appropriate standards of care that should guide employers and employees under the Jones Act, held that the jurors in the instant case were improperly instructed as to appellee’s duty to exercise care for his own safety. The court, however, express no opinion as to the proper apportionment of fault between the two parties. Accordingly, the court affirm the district court's determination of the amounts of damages, and vacated the district court's judgment as to comparative fault and remanded the case for proceedings to determine the comparative fault, if any, of the plaintiff and apportionment of the damages consistent with this opinion because the jurors were improperly instructed as to appellee's duty to exercise care for his safety.