David C. Pellegrin
The Admissibility of Expert Testimony in Maritime and Jones Act Cases
The Jones Act provides maritime workers with special avenues of recovery and other special protections. In passing the Jones Act, Congress recognized that working on a vessel is an unusually dangerous job than can lead to serious disability and injury. Some maritime workers will not be considered Jones Act seamen by courts, but their claims will still be governed by maritime law. Many claims by Jones Act workers and non-Jones Act workers will be heard in federal court.
It can be difficult for attorneys to know whether to hire an expert to prepare a maritime injury client’s case for court. On one hand, the negligence burden for Jones Act workers is “featherweight” in the worker’s favor. On the other hand, “featherweight” is not non-existent. A Jones Act worker must show his employer or a co-worker was negligent in some way. For non-Jones Act workers seeking to recover damages, the burden of showing negligence is higher.
For attorneys bringing cases to federal court, it can be risky to bring a case without expert testimony. Federal courts are often quick to dismiss cases that require expert support but don’t have it.
However, in maritime cases, there is a trend of judges in Louisiana federal courts excluding experts when all they have to offer is “common sense” conclusions about what caused the accident. This causes increased case expenses for attorneys and clients and ultimately lower recoveries. An attorney hiring an expert for a maritime case needs to make sure his case is similar to one in which expert testimony has been admitted in the past.
Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence States that:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
- The expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact issue;
- The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
- The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
- the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
Rule 702 provides that a witness who is qualified as an expert may testify if: (1) the expert’s “specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue”; (2) the expert’s testimony “is based on sufficient facts or data”; (3) the expert’s testimony “is the product of reliable principles and methods”; and (4) the principles and methods employed by the expert have been reliably applied to the facts of the case.
In Granger v. Bisso Marine and Bolinger Shipyards, 2016 WL 4621501 (Ed. La. 2016), a Court found an expert’s testimony on vessel safety procedures was admissible under F.R.E. 702, finding that the expert “has special knowledge and experience evaluating vessel safety procedures.”
In Boudreaux v. Scott’s Boat Rentals, LLC, Slip Op. 2016 WL 9406087 (Ed. La. 2016), an expert’s testimony was ruled admissible when he was able to testify to missing safety equipment and poor operational control.
The Pellegrin Firm is a law firm in Metairie, Louisiana, that represents injured maritime employees, including Jones Act semen, in personal injury cases. The Pellegrin Firm represents people throughout the New Orleans area and throughout the State of Louisiana. The Pellegrin Firm can be reached at (504) 405-3245 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.