Borrowed Employees & Period of Employment Analysis in the Seaman Status Inquiry: The Fifth Circuit's Rejection of a Bright-line Rule in Wilcox V. Wild Well Control, Inc.

Note by Christopher A. Hebert

Joseph R. Wilcox was a welder employed by Max Welders L.L.C. between 2009 and 2012.1 Over the course of his employment with Max Welders, Wilcox worked on 191 different projects in various locations, both onshore and offshore. While some of this work did take Wilcox to sea, less than 30% of his employment was spent in the service of a vessel. Energy Resource Technology GOM, Inc., hired Wild Well Control, Inc. (Wild Well), a subsidiary of Superior Energy Services, Inc. (Superior), to decommission an offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. When Wild Well contracted with Max Welders to provide welders for this decommissioning project, Wilcox was deployed to the project site. On June 5, 2012, Wilcox sustained serious injuries from a gas explosion that occurred while he was performing welding work on the offshore oil platform.

Wilcox and his wife subsequently filed suit against his nominal employer, Max Welders, and his borrowing employer, Wild Well, for negligence under the Jones Act and for unseaworthiness under general maritime law, or, alternatively, the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. In response, Superior and Wild Well filed a motion for summary judgment on Wilcox's Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims, and the district court granted summary judgment for Wild Well and Superior, finding that Wilcox did not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act. 

This note analyzes the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which that it was appropriate here to look at Wilcox's entire employment with his nominal employer to determine his seaman status, and as a result, Wilcox did not qualify as a seaman entitled to the protections of the Jones Act. Wilcox v. Wild Well Control, Inc., 794 F.3d 531, 2015 AMC 2255 (5th Cir. 2015).

About the Author

J.D. candidate 2018, Tulane University Law School; B.S. 2015, Louisiana State University.


91 Tul. L. Rev. 1045 (2017)