Seamen who fall ill or who are injured in the service of a vessel have three principle causes of action available to them: the Jones Act, maintenance and cure, and the unseaworthiness doctrine.
Definition of Unseaworthiness
The definition of the term “unseaworthiness” may differ slightly in maritime law compared to the marine industry itself. Unseaworthiness does not automatically mean that the vessel is unable to be navigated or sailed or that it must sink in order for it to be considered unseaworthy. Instead, it means that some aspect of a vessel, either its equipment or crew, is not deemed reasonably fit for its purpose.
Vessel Owner’s Absolute Duty
Under maritime law, all vessel owners have an absolute duty to provide and maintain a seaworthy vessel for their crew. The vessel and its accessories must be suitable for their intended use, which means that anything that is part of the vessel or used in connection with the vessel must be in safe and proper working order. The ship or vessel must meet all maritime safety laws for operating vessels, and must also be considered a reasonable and safe place for a seaman to work and reside.
It is important to note that it is the vessel owner’s duty—and not the seaman’s employer—to provide his or her seamen with a seaworthy vessel. In most instances, however, the two are the same person or company.
Examples of Unseaworthiness
There are numerous types of unseaworthiness. In terms of a vessel, these include:
- Worn out fixtures or equipment
- Lack of fixtures or equipment
- Improperly designed fixtures or equipment
- Slipping or tripping hazards
- Lack of proper warnings
- Lack of safe access between the shore and the vessel
Apart from unseaworthy conditions related to the vessel, a seaworthy vessel must also be able to provide an adequate crew. In terms of the crew, common types of unseaworthy conditions include:
- Lack of a properly trained crew
- The absence of safety procedures
- Insufficient crew or manpower to perform the task at hand
- Insufficient supervision
- Breach of safety rules
- Working excessive hours
Filing a Claim
A vessel owner is held accountable for all injuries that are caused by unseaworthy conditions, regardless of whether or not the owner is aware of these conditions. A crewmember may be entitled to bring a claim for damages and compensation against the vessel’s owner if he or she sustains personal injury on the vessel as a result of defective equipment or machinery, or if the vessel is deemed unfit for its intended purpose.
The injured seaman does not need to prove that the entire vessel was in danger of sinking or that it was unseaworthy. He or she simply needs to prove that some aspect or condition of the vessel, either equipment or crew, was not fit for its intended purpose, and that he or she was injured as a result of this.
Under the doctrine of seaworthiness, injured seamen may recover any damages that are traditionally available under maritime law. These include medical expenses, compensation for disability, loss of income, and pain and suffering.
If you have suffered serious injury in a maritime accident due to an unseaworthy vessel or crew, call Corpus Christi Tx Jones Act and maritime lawyer Sheadyn R Rogers of Rogers Law Firm at (361) 356-6057 or fill out the law firm's online consultation request form for a free consultation concerning your case.