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November 03, 2011

Federal Maritime Law Preempts New York State Law for Claims Brought Against the Owners of Vessels on Navigable Waters

Federal maritime law preempts New York State law in claims brought against the owner of a vessel located on navigable waters. Lee v. Astoria Generating Co., 13 N.Y.3d 382, 392, 892 N.Y.S.2d 294, 299 (2009). The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("LHWCA") serves as a type of workers' compensation remedy for eligible workers, precluding recovery of damages against vessel owners and employers, claims brought pursuant to New York State Labor Law §§ 240 and 241. Id. For the LHWCA to apply, the claim must be the result of an incident that occurred on a vessel that is used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water. A barge that was tugged for maintenance purposes was considered such a vessel where the LHWCA applied. Lee at 391, 892 N.Y.S.2d at 299; Koat v. Consolidated Edison of New York, 08-14854 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., June 21, 2011).

Despite the protective nature of the legislation limiting liability exposure in relation to injured employees, the Appellate Division, Second Department, has recently made clear that the holdings of Lee are also limited. The defense afforded by the LHWCA applies only to vessel owners and employers. In Eldoh v. Astoria Generating Company, L.P., 81 A.D.3d 871, 917 N.Y.S.2d 289, 292 (2d Dep't 2011), the Second Department determined that the LHWCA did not preempt Labor Law §§ 240 and 241 claims brought against parties that were neither the owner of the vessel nor the plaintiff's employer. Thus, contractors working on barges in navigable waters may be exposed to Labor Law liability as a result of a laborer injured on a navigable vessel.

If you require further information regarding the information presented in this Legal Alert and its impact on your organization, please contact any of the members of the Practice Area.

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