Maine’s excessive courtroom finds aquaculture employee coated by staff’ comp

An aquaculture worker injured while caring for salmon raised in offshore stables is subject to state law, but not federal law, which establishes some of the rights of seafarers, the Maine Supreme Court ruled.

The court ruled unanimously on Tuesday in a Workers’ Compensation Board appeal ruling involving a woman injured while working for the Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm off the Eastport coast.

The woman, Darla Potter, slipped and injured her knee while tending to salmon raised in cages less than a mile offshore.

The Great Falls Insurance Company argued that the Workers’ Compensation Board did not have jurisdiction because the Federal Admiralty Act known as the Jones Act was supposed to make Potter a “seaman”.

The Supreme Court said the closest analogy to an aquaculture operation is an offshore oil rig, and it has found that oil rig workers never fall under the jurisdiction of the Jones Act.

Justice Catherine Connors wrote in the decision that a worker on a platform could be exposed to the elements of the sea, although it is not a “traditional occupation at sea”.

“Just as one might drill for oil on land or at sea, so can the work Potter was engaged in – fish farming – be carried out on land as well as at sea,” she wrote.

The court eventually ruled that Potter was not considered a seaman, so the workers’ compensation decision should stand.

However, the court found that in some cases it is possible for an aquaculture worker to fall under the Jones Act.

“Every case is fact sensitive and there may be situations where an aquaculture worker can be considered a seaman,” she wrote.

Cooke Aquaculture paid Potter’s medical bills while the insurer and the company battled over jurisdiction, her attorney Kevin Noonan said.

Potter, 64, had a knee replacement and continues to work for Cooke Aquaculture. But she now works as a truck driver instead of the more physically demanding work on the salmon feathers, he said.

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