Scope of Employment

News & Insights 29 January 2013


U.S. Jones Act employers are certainly aware of the Beech v. Hercules decision handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Beech v. Hercules Drilling Company, L.L.C.

U.S.  Jones Act employers are certainly aware of the Beech v. Hercules decision handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The underlying facts of the case result from a worker accidently discharging a firearm and killing a coworker. The gun was not permitted onboard, and was not required for the work at hand. In this appellate decision the court established the manner in which to decide whether a seaman employee is acting within the course and scope of employment for purposes of holding the employer vicariously liable for the negligent acts of that employee. The appellate court decided that the test for determining if the employee is acting within the course and scope of his employment is whether his actions at the time of the wrongful / negligent conduct were in furtherance of his employer’s “business interests”. The appellate court reversed the lower court and determined that this gun handling conduct was not sufficiently related to the employers operations. The company would not be held liable for the death. In deciding the matter the court noted that different circuits ( jurisdictions) applied different standards in determining acting in scope of employment.

To update this matter, On November 13, 2012, the wife in her individual capacity and in her capacity as guardian of her minor child, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. This petition asks the high court to review the appellate court decision and resolve the inconsistent tests used by lower courts when deciding this issue. As this legal question is looked at differently in several parts of the nation, this may be the next maritime matter heard by the United States Supreme Court.

The decision of the Fifth Circuit can be found at 691 F. 3d 566 (5th Cir. 2012).

The petition can be viewed at 2012 U.S. Briefs 632; 2012 U.S. S. Ct. Briefs LEXIS 4920

 

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