Comparative Negligence in Maritime Law

In maritime law, comparative negligence bars an injured party from recovering damages sustained as a result of his own fault. Simeonoff v. Hiner, 249 F.3d 883, 889-90 (9th Cir. 2001). An exception to the doctrine of comparative negligence exists when a seaman is injured while following a specific order. Id. at 891. The Ninth Circuit has stated: "where a general order is given, an employee must use ordinary care in its execution, and the giving of the order does not affect the question whether the servant has been negligent in his manner of carrying it out, where there is a choice open to him." Jenkins v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 22 F.3d 206, 211 (9th Cir. 1994) (quoting Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Seamas, 201 F.2d 140, 144 (9th Cir. 1952)). In such cases, the plaintiff's actions are reviewable for contributory negligence. In Williams v. Brasea, 497 F.2d 67, 73 (5th Cir. 1974) the Court stated that "a seaman may not be contributorily negligent for carrying out orders that result in his own injury, even if he recognizes possible danger." In Williams, the court concluded: "a seaman's duty to obey orders from his immediate supervisor overrides the postulate that the seaman must delay execution of the order until he makes a reasonable effort to be sure that following the order will not injure the superior who gave the order." Id. The Court adopted the Fifth Circuit's rule in Tio Mario Inc. v. Matos, 778 S.W.2d 529, 531 (Tex. App.--Corpus Christi 1989, writ denied). The Court opined that appellant was following the captain's specific order that he pick up equipment and tie up the line. Id.