Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute

The Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute creates criminal liability for negligent seaman, vessel owners, or operators. The Seaman Manslaughter Statute was passed in response to Senator Josiah Johnson being killed by an explosion while he was on a passenger steamboat. The steamboat owner was accused of negligence, but there was no law to prosecute the owner.

There are three categories in which someone can be found liable under the Seaman Manslaughter Statute:

  1. When someone is employed on the vessel through the negligent performance of their employment duties, it directly causes the death of someone.
  2. When the death of a person results from fraud, neglect, connivance, misconduct, or violation of law by a vessel owner, a vessel charter, an inspector, or some other public officer.
  3. An executive officer of a corporate vessel owner or vessel charterer whose duty is to control and manage the operation, equipment, or navigation of the vessel knows and willfully allowed the corporate entity’s neglect to cause the death of a human being.

Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and California Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute Lawyers

If you were injured as a maritime worker, Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, LLP can help you recover compensation for any of the injuries and losses you suffered. The legal team at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, LLP can hold the negligent pilot or employer who was at fault under the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute. We have an in-depth understanding of how state maritime laws work and can protect your rights.

Our maritime attorneys serve clients in Washington, California, Alaska and Oregon. To schedule your initial consultation today, call 1 (800) 262-8529.

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Information Center

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Penalties Under the Seaman Manslaughter Statute

The Seaman Manslaughter Statute states that anyone convicted under the statute must be fined or imprisoned for up to ten years. The court system is responsible for determining the length of imprisonment and how severe the fine should be; however, the maximum fine is either $250,000 or twice the gross financial gain to the defendant or loss to the victim, whichever is greatest.

In addition to imprisonment, a judge may impose supervised release after imprisonment, or if the judge believes imprisonment is too severe, probation may be imposed instead. A convicted defendant must also pay the government a mandatory assessment of $100 to $400; restitution may be ordered in cases that warrant it.

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Restitution requires a defendant to pay back the damages caused to all injured. This generally results in an intrusive investigation into the financial resource of the defendant and the damages caused to the victim and their family.

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Several defenses may be available to a defendant, including but not limited to that they were not negligent or fraudulent, nor did they knowingly or willfully allow the corporate entities to neglect.

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Prosecution Under The Statute

In the past, prosecution under the statute was exceedingly rare. In fact, there were only about eight major prosecutions in the first 142 years of the statute’s existence. However, several high-profile cases have been tried under the statute in the last few decades.

United States v. Mitlof and Sheehan

In Mitlof and Sheehan, a water taxi was allowed to operate with numerous mechanical and structural issues leading it to capsize and kill one passenger. The vessel’s owner was convicted of manslaughter under the statute, among other crimes.

United States v. Shore

In United States v. Shore, an underage woman was killed on a booze cruise after the first mate became aware that a railing was broken and failed to fix or have someone stand guard to ensure none of the drunk passengers were injured. As a result, a young woman fell off the boat and drowned. The coast guard was not called until 50 minutes after the incident resulting in the captain and first mate of the boat pleading guilty to manslaughter because of their negligence that led to the woman’s death. They were both sentenced to six months of house arrest for their part in the woman’s death.

The Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute applies to more than large commercial vessels with numbers of workers. It also applies to passenger boats in an attempt to protect passengers from the negligence of captains and workers on the water. The government has been targeting criminal procedures to ensure proper procedures are followed. Due to the increased prosecution rate under the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute, companies should be aware that any fatality will generally result in an investigation.

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Additional Resources

Seaman’s Manslaughter Articles – This law review article gives a more in-depth review of the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act.

Professional Mariner Journal of the Maritime Industry – This article discusses a situation from 2007 in which a group of Mariners asked for changes to the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute.

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Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute Attorneys |  Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California

If you have suffered injuries while working as a maritime employee, you may be able to hold the party who was at fault accountable under the Seaman’s Manslaughter statute. At Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, LLP, we have been successfully prosecuting injuries at sea for over thirty years.

We offer an initial consultation free of cost and without any obligation. If you were injured in Washington, Oregon, Alaska or California, call 1 (800) 262-8529 today.

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  • The Maritime Law Association of The United States
    The Maritime Law Association of the United States (MLA) was founded in 1899. Its formation was prompted by the organization, some three years earlier, of the International Maritime Committee.
  • Washington State Bar Association
    The Washington State Bar Association operates under the delegated authority of the Washington Supreme Court to license the state's nearly 40,000 lawyers and other legal professionals.
  • Oregon State Bar
    The Oregon State Bar is a government agency in the U.S. state of Oregon. Founded in 1890 as the private Oregon Bar Association, it became a public entity in 1935 that regulates the legal profession.
  • Alaska Bar Association
    The Alaska Bar Association is a mandatory bar association responsible to the Alaska Supreme Court for the admission and discipline process of attorneys for the State of Alaska.