A lawsuit stemming from the coronavirus-related death of an Alabama sea captain may be the first of its kind in the U.S. to allege negligence under the Jones Act, leading to the death or injury of a maritime worker during the pandemic.
The widow of Michael Norwood, who had been a sea captain for more than 30 years, filed a federal lawsuit against Rodi Marine LLC, the Lafayette, Louisiana-based company that owned the boat he had been working on at the time of his death. Norwood, who was based in Mobile, Alabama, died in mid-April.
Negligencein Jones Act case
The case is being heard in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans under the Jones Act. The lawsuit alleges that the company was negligent when it sent one of Norwood’s co-workers to New Orleans — a known COVID-19 hot spot. The co-worker who was a fellow sea captain then returned to Mobile exposing Norwood to the virus. At the time, Norwood worked on one of Rodi Marine’s offshore oil industry support vessels in Mobile.
Court documents claim that in late March, Rodi Marine ordered Norwood’s co-worker to serve sea captain duties in New Orleans. Upon returning to Mobile a few days later and working several more days, the co-worker came down with COVID-19. The lawsuit claims that Norwood then contracted the virus from the other captain and died. The 63-year-old Norwood suffered from diabetes.
Under the Jones Act, companies must provide seafarers with a safe place to work.