Vessel Owners Have A Duty

Under Federal Maritime law, the owner of a vessel owes the vessel's crew a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. Where the vessel is found to be unseaworthy, and the unseaworthiness leads to the injury of a crewman, the crewman is entitled to compensation for his/her injuries. Crewmen may receive compensation for all damages flowing from the unseaworthiness, including damages for pain and suffering, lost past and future wages, retraining costs, and medical and nursing services.

In each instance where a crewman is injured, careful factual and legal analysis must be undertaken to determine if the vessel was seaworthy. Whether a vessel is seaworthy is a legal question of fact that must be decided on a case by case basis. To be seaworthy, a vessel must be reasonably fit for its intended purpose and to complete and accomplish its mission. The duty to provide a seaworthy vessel includes the obligation to provide reasonably safe equipment and competent crew.

What Constitutes Unseaworthiness?

Examples of facts which might render a vessel unseaworthy include:

Inadequate CrewDefective Tools or Equipment
Faulty DesignUnsafe Work Procedures
Improper TrainingUnsafe Equipment
Lack of Safety EquipmentLack of Proper Tools
Working Excessive HoursLack of Supervision
Lack of Machine GuardingBreach of Safety Statutes

The unseaworthiness doctrine applies only to seamen and provides them important protection under Federal Maritime law. Unseaworthiness is a strict liability doctrine. The accident need not be foreseeable for there to be liability under the unseaworthiness doctrine. A temporary or transitory condition may render a vessel unseaworthy.

How A Vessel Is Rendered Unseaworthy

Where a vessel owner breaches a safety statute, such as a United States Coast Guard regulation, the vessel should be found unseaworthy as a matter of law. Experienced maritime lawyers examine each maritime injury case to determine whether or not there may be a safety violation. Where the vessel owner has violated a safety statute, such as the Fishing Vessel Safety Act or Coast Guard manning requirements, the vessel owner may be found liable per se.

The duty of unseaworthiness is absolute and independent of negligence. Claims of unseaworthiness and Jones Act negligence are almost always brought jointly, providing crewmen the best opportunity to obtain compensation for their injuries.

There are distinct differences between theories of Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness. An unseaworthiness action is part of the General Maritime law. The duty to render a seaworthy vessel is the vessel owner's obligation. There is no right to a jury trial in an unseaworthy action unless it is jointly combined with a Jones Act claim. A Jones Act claim may be brought only against the seaman's employer.

Negligence And Unseaworthiness

The Jones Act is a statutory law passed by Congress. Under the Jones Act, a seaman has a right to a jury trial. The Jones Act has extremely liberal concepts of causation. If there is any connection, no matter how small, between the seaman's injury and employer's negligence, the employer may held fully liable for damages. Under the Jones Act, if an employer violates a safety statute, the seaman may not be held comparatively at fault.

Experienced maritime lawyers know how to differentiate complex and important differences between Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness. Utilizing theories of unseaworthiness, Jones Act negligence, and maintenance and cure, allows maritime lawyers to achieve the best results for injured seamen.

Experienced Maritime Lawyers

Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC is one of the nation's leading maritime personal injury law firms. They have represented thousands of injured seamen, recovering millions of dollars in damages for their clients under theories of unseaworthiness and Jones Act Negligence.

If you have been injured working aboard a vessel, contact Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC for a free initial consultation and to learn about your rights under the unseaworthiness doctrine and the Jones Act. It costs you nothing to talk to our lawyers to find out if you have a case.