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Injury claims for seamen, part 2: Unseaworthy vessel

Let's continue the discussion from our previous post of legal claims available for injury or illness suffered by seamen who is employed on a vessel. There are, as the Supreme Court itself has acknowledged, a trilogy of possible claims.

One is the Jones Act, which allows a seaman to bring a claim for injuries against a negligent employer. A second claim, as we discussed in part one of this post, is the centuries-old remedy of maintenance and cure. That claim protects a seaman's right to be properly compensated for medical bills and living expenses while recovering from injury or illness.

A third possible claim is against the ship owner for injuries caused by an unseaworthy vessel.

Like maintenance and cure, an unseaworthiness claim is based on longstanding principles of maritime law left in place by the Jones Act. Where the facts support it, these claims can be made in addition to a Jones Act claim.

An unseaworthiness claim is based on the premise that the owner of a vessel has promised members of the crew that the vessel and its equipment will be reasonably fit for their intended purposes.

For example, a winch used to loading or unloading fish is supposed to work for that purpose and not break. If it does break under normal and expected use and strikes a worker, that could support an unseaworthiness claim.

Essentially, in modern terms, an unseaworthiness claim is based on a form of strict liability for a defective condition that causes injury. This means that the vessel owner does not have to be aware of the condition in order for a claim of unseaworthiness to go forward.

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