A vessel’s owner may be liable for a seaman’s injury if the courts rule that the vessel was unseaworthy and that condition contributed to the injury.
Identifying unseaworthy conditions is one of the key aspects of filing a claim and holding the owner or employer accountable for the damages.
The condition of the vessel
According to the Louisiana Law Review, the owner does not have to keep the vessel in perfect condition. However, the vessel must be in reasonably fit condition to perform its intended purposes and safely operate during any circumstances it encounters while at sea.
The owner’s responsibility
A problem that renders the vessel unseaworthy causes liability even if the owner is not aware of it. If an owner takes reasonable precautions, though, he or she is not likely to have to worry about a serious issue. Safety precautions include the following:
- Hiring adequate crew
- Making sure all crew members receive the training they need
- Equipping the vessel with adequate safety gear, medical supplies and lifeboats
- Replacing faulty equipment and performing regular maintenance and inspections
- Labeling chemicals or other hazardous materials on board
- Meeting all of the required safety regulations and standards
An owner should also do what is necessary to prevent slippery surfaces and obstacles in walk areas, as these can lead to serious accidents. Crew members should not have work schedules that lead to dangerous fatigue or exhaustion, such as workdays longer than 12 hours. The owner should also not require the crew to sail in extreme weather conditions.
An unseaworthiness claim
Not every seaman can file this type of claim: only those covered by the Jones Act in a vessel capable of motion. The vessel could be at port when the injury happens, but it must not be outside of U.S. navigable waters. The injury must have a direct link to the unseaworthy condition.
Family members of a fatally injured seaman may file a wrongful death claim against the owner. An injured seaman cannot file a third-party claim for damages in an unseaworthiness claim. Damages available in an unseaworthiness claim include medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering, among others. However, courts will not award punitive damages in this type of case.