Navigation and commerce by water are governed by admiralty and maritime law. In addition to international trade on the high seas, seaman’s injuries are also prevalent in admiralty and maritime law.
How Does the Law Protect Maritime Workers?
Maritime workers are protected depending on their occupational status. The Jones Act protects traditional seamen or those who travel on the high seas. The Jones Act allows boat owners to be held liable without proving fault. In general, harbor workers and other workers involved with ships are protected by tort law (negligence) and workers’ compensation laws.
What Is the Primary Basis of Maritime Personal Injury?
Most maritime personal injury cases are related to negligence by boat owners and boat workers.
Who Do These Laws Apply to?
Maritime personal injury recovery laws typically cover the following groups:
- Longshoremen (those who load and unload the cargo)
- Maintenance and Repairmen (ship cleaners, tank cleaners, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, etc.)
- Other non-seaman or persons whose occupations bring them aboard vessels on navigable waters, whose duties are of the type performed by seamen, who are members of a ship’s company but do not go to sea
- Passengers and guests of boat owners and boat companies
What Is the Jones Act?
Seamen who are injured on a vessel can seek remedies under the Jones Act. Additionally, the act provides for the families of seamen killed in action.
Who Is a “Seaman” under the Jones Act and General Maritime Law?
To be a “seaman” and qualify for coverage under the Jones Act, the individual must meet the following criteria:
- The vessel that you were injured on must be “in navigation” at sea or in a body of water that is connected to interstate or international commerce
- You must spend a substantial part of your work time on board the vessel
Negligence Claims Under the Jones Act
According to the Jones Act, a seaman who suffers a work-related injury has seven days to report it. When at sea, seamen usually report accidents and injuries to their supervisors or captains. A seaman should report an accident and injury as soon as possible. As a result of the seaman’s delayed report, insurers may argue that the injury was not serious.
The employer may require a seaman to fill out an accident report. If the seaman is taking medication to treat an injury, they may request to delay submitting the report. The seaman may be asked to identify the person or entity responsible for the accident or injury in their report.
It may undercut the seaman’s Jones Act claim if the seaman fails to state that the employer was at fault. A seaman should not settle or resolve a Jones Act claim until after receiving medical treatment. After treatment, the seaman will know the full amount of medical expenses and lost wages.
Does a Boat Owner Owe Any Duties to Its Passengers?
As a common carrier of passengers, a vessel has a duty of safe transportation. A passenger’s safety is generally ensured during embarkation, transportation, and disembarkation. During the passage, passengers must be protected from harm, either from the crew or fellow passengers and from negligence on the vessel’s part.
Can Small Boat Owners be Liable for Personal Injuries?
Owners of small boats can be held liable for personal injuries if they fail to exercise reasonable care. The failure to use reasonable care includes being unfamiliar with the waters they are navigating in and failing to familiarize themselves with them, as well as operating vessels at unsafe speeds.
What Is Unseaworthiness?
There are three principal causes of action available to a seaman who is injured or falls ill in service of the vessel: maintenance and cure, the Jones Act, and the unseaworthiness doctrine.
Maintenance and cure generally refer to providing medical treatment and a daily living allowance while an injured or ill seaman is recovering. Under the Jones Act, injured seamen can recover directly from their employers if their injuries were caused by the vessel owner’s or the crew’s negligence.
When Is a Vessel “Seaworthy”?
For a vessel to be deemed “seaworthy,” it must:
- Supply at all times proper equipment and safety gear to seamen
- Provide a safe environment for a seaman to work and reside in
- Adhere to all safety requirements for operating vessels
Workers covered by the Jones Act include:
- Tugboat workers
- Barge workers
- Cruise ship workers
- Ferry boat workers
- Construction workers who work on vessels or barges
- Oil platform workers
- Commercial divers
Who May File Unseaworthiness Claim?
Most unseaworthiness claims are filed by seamen or their families against the vessel’s owner, which may also be their employer. A chartered vessel is not liable under the seaworthiness doctrine, but its owner may be held liable for negligence based on the vessel’s unseaworthiness.
In cases of death on the high seas because of an unseaworthy vessel, a family member may initiate a claim under the Death on the High Seas Act. Under this act, a family may recover damages in the form of lost services.
How Does the Unseaworthiness Doctrine Interact with the Jones Act?
Occasionally, the unseaworthiness doctrine and the Jones Act overlap. However, each cause of action involves different elements. In addition, injured seamen have different remedies depending on the type of claim.
The shipowner’s absolute and non-delegable duty is to ensure the ship is seaworthy. The unseaworthiness doctrine requires a seaman to prove only that an unseaworthy condition existed on the ship and that condition caused the seaman’s injury. Shipowners are not required to be aware of an unseaworthy condition, nor does it have to have been caused by their negligence.
Conversely, the Jones Act requires a seaman to prove that their injury was caused by the negligence of their employer or one of its employees. A seaman can request a jury trial for both unseaworthiness doctrine and Jones Act claims.
In addition to past and future lost income, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and disability, the Jones Act provides limited damages. According to the Jones Act, surviving family members are entitled to recover for the seaman’s conscious pain and suffering and loss of financial support. A seaman may recover any damages traditionally available at law under the unseaworthiness doctrine.
Common Questions Concerning Admiralty and Maritime Law
What Is a Bill of Lading?
Carriage or transport of goods internationally constitutes the majority of maritime commercial activity. In this type of transaction, a bill of lading is crucial. Three parties are involved in a bill of lading: the carrier (ship owner), the seller of the goods, and the purchaser.
What Happens if My Goods are Lost or Damaged at Sea?
The basic statute regulating compensation for lost or damaged goods in maritime situations is the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA). COGSA requires ship owners to:
- Make their vessels seaworthy
- Properly equip, supply, and man their vessels
- Make the holds, cooling compartments, and all other areas where the goods are to be stored fit and safe for their reception, preservation, and carriage.
If a ship owner fails in any of the above, they may be liable for the damaged or lost goods. COGSA only applies to cases of international shipment.
What Does International Law Have to Do with Maritime Law?
International law is heavily intertwined with admiralty and maritime law. A dispute over the high seas can be complicated to resolve. Determining which admiralty laws apply depends on the ship’s flag. For instance, a ship flying the French flag in American waters is subject to French Admiralty Law.
Do I Need an Attorney Specializing in Admiralty and Maritime Law?
Because of the complex nature of maritime law, it would be wise to consult with a liability attorney specializing in both admiralty and international law. The right admiralty and maritime lawyer will help you understand your rights and preserve any remedies that may be available to you.