This is the third part of a three-part series dealing with the Fane Lozman vs. The City of Riviera Beach Supreme Court decision and the ramifications that flow from the same. In this part we will discuss the far-reaching effects of the decision upon floating restaurants and casinos.
Prior to the decision floating restaurants and floating casinos may have been characterized as vessels falling under the jurisdiction of federal maritime law. If these structures were characterized as such, the employees would have been able-bodied seamen. This is particularly important because the benefits due an able-bodied seaman are different than those afforded land side employees under the various workers compensation laws of each state. Typically workers compensation will cover a portion of lost wages and medical expenses from doctors assigned to the injured worker by the workers compensation insurance carrier. Under maritime law, an injured employee will not only receive maintenance (daily wages) and cure, also known as medical benefits, but additional benefits as well not allowed under workers compensation. Once the seaman has reached maximum medical improvement, he will be entitled to pain and suffering damages and under certain circumstances future medical expenses.
Clearly, under the scenario where the vessel is described as coming under federal maritime law, the benefits are more expensive and more expansive as it relates to an injured worker. Therefore, floating restaurants, other businesses floating on the water and floating casinos had an overriding interest in the outcome of the Lozman case. If these structures fit the criteria set forth in the Lozman case taking them outside of federal maritime law, the cost of their insurance benefits would go down remarkably. Conversely, if the vessel or floating structure meets the definition of having the structure fall under maritime law, the owner of the vessel could make certain adjustments to the vessel to take it out from underneath maritime law and place it into the less expensive description of workers compensation laws. This decision has been beneficially impacted certain industries by setting forth a definition whereby employee benefits can be redefined.
The Lozman decision has affected many aspects of commerce in its decision. Only the future will unfurl to true effects of the re-characterization of what a vessel is and isn’t. Whatever the future holds, we know it will involve litigation and court time to sort out the questions in an attempt to provide answers.