Primary-Duty Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

Primary duty doctrine is a principle of Maritime law that a seaman-employee may not recover from his employer for injuries caused by his own failure to perform a duty imposed on him by his employment. The primary duty doctrine originated ithe case Walker v. Lykes Bros. S.S. Co., 193 F.2d 772 (2d Cir. 1952).

The following are examples of case law on primary duty doctrine:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has refused to apply the primary duty doctrine in cases where no misconduct or actual knowledge of an unsafe condition existed. Even if the captain was aware of an unsafe condition, it would not bar recovery in an action. Assumption of the risk and contributory negligence are not defenses to a claim of unseaworthiness but may only be proven in mitigation of damages. [Bartoe v. Mo. Barge Line Co., 635 F. Supp. 2d 1020, 1025 (E.D. Mo. 2009)]

Three principles limiting the primary duty doctrine are: First, the "primary duty" rule will not bar a claim of injury arising from the breach of a duty that the plaintiff did not consciously assume as a term of his employment. Second, the rule does not apply where a seaman is injured by a dangerous condition that he did not create and, in the proper exercise of his employment duties, could not have controlled or eliminated. Third, the rule applies only to a knowing violation of a duty consciously assumed as a term of employment. It does not apply to a momentary lapse of care by an otherwise careful seaman.[Mabrey v. Wizard Fisheries, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41099, 7-8 (W.D. Wash. June 5, 2007)]