One of the most common causes of civil claims in maritime law is unseaworthiness. It is the responsibility of the owner to provide a vessel that is reasonably fit for its purpose, though they are not obligated to provide an accident-free workplace. Failure to provide a vessel that is at least reasonably seaworthy is considered negligent under maritime law.
A seaman who is injured due to the unseaworthiness of a vessel has cause to bring a civil action against the owner for compensation to recover for their damages. As maritime law can be complicated, it is recommended you hire an experienced admiralty attorney if you are wishing to pursue compensation for a maritime injury.
Unseaworthiness Injury Lawyers
Serving as a seaman on a vessel can lead to offshore injuries. In many instances seaman suffer severe injuries because the vessel is unseaworthy. For example, the ship or vessel may be unseaworthy if it is not reasonably fit for its intended purpose or does not allow a seaman to successfully perform their tasks. At BoatLaw, LLP, we have decades of experience helping families and injured seaman recover for their damages.
With a dedication to the favorable resolution of maritime injury claims, the maritime injury lawyers of BoatLaw, LLP will fight for fair compensation in your case, even if it means facing a large maritime employer or insurance company. We have offices in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco, California. To schedule your free consultation to see what BoatLaw, LLP can do for your unseaworthiness claim, call 1 (800) 262-8529 today.
Unseaworthiness Information Center
- Definition of Unseaworthiness
- Maritime Injury Claims and the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
- Unseaworthiness and Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)
- How Does the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness Correlate With Maintenance and Cure?
Definition of Unseaworthiness
Under general maritime law, the warranty of seaworthiness gives a seaman the right to bring a civil action against a vessel owner based on unseaworthiness. However, the definition of unseaworthiness is not found in this law. Rather, the official definition is set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Mahnich v. Southern Steamship Co. This case defines the warranty of seaworthiness as the shipowner’s nondelegable duty to furnish his seamen with a vessel and its related equipment which are reasonably fit for their intended use.
Included in this definition is the duty of the vessel owner to provide adequate safety equipment for the tasks to be performed on the vessel, as well as a crew that is reasonably adequate in size and competent in skill for the work at hand. A seaman’s injury due to the failure of equipment under proper use, lack of necessary safety equipment, or a violent crewmember may all be grounds for an unseaworthiness claim brought against a vessel owner. An experienced maritime injury attorney can examine your case for signs of unseaworthiness or other negligence that caused your injuries and help you bring a case against the vessel owner to fight for the damages you need and deserve.
Maritime Injury Claims and the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
In order to bring a claim of unseaworthiness against a vessel owner, the plaintiff must be able to prove a number of elements. First and foremost, the plaintiff must be able to show that he or she had seaman status at the time of the injury. This means that the plaintiff must be able to show beyond a preponderance of the evidence, or beyond a 50% chance of probability of truth, that:
- the vessel on which the plaintiff was employed was in navigation;
- that the plaintiff, as an employee, contributed to the mission, operation, or maintenance of the vessel at anchor or under way, and;
- the plaintiff had more or less a permanent connection with the vessel, which was substantial in terms of time and work.
Examples of seamen that may bring a claim of unseaworthiness against a vessel include merchant mariners, officers, mates, engineers, deckhands, commercial fishermen, tankermen, and tugboat crew members. In order for one of these types of seamen to bring an unseaworthiness claim, they must prove not only that the vessel was unseaworthy, but that the unseaworthy condition played a substantial part in bringing about the injury or damage that occurred. Even if the seaman’s own negligence contributed to the accident, they may still have a claim of unseaworthiness to the extent that it caused the injury or damages.
It is important to note that it is not the duty of the vessel owner to provide a ship that is completely accident free, but rather a vessel that is reasonably fit. If the vessel was equipped with equipment that another vessel owner in the same situation would reasonably provide, and if safety procedures from entities like the Coast Guard were reasonably followed, the vessel may be declared reasonably fit. When considering the pursuit of a Jones Act unseaworthiness claim, it is important to choose an experienced maritime injury attorney who understands the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness.
Unseaworthiness and Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA)
Employment as an able-bodied seaman, fisherman, or other maritime-based occupation is highly dangerous and, unfortunately, can result in the death of a loved one. When a death due to vessel unseaworthiness occurs in international waters or beyond three nautical miles from the shore, the unseaworthiness claim must be brought under 46 U.S.C. § 30301, known as the Death on the High Seas Act (“DOHSA”).
DOHSA states that when the death of an individual is caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default more than three miles from the United States shoreline, civil action compensating that person’s spouse, parent, child, or dependent relative may take place. This includes cases of unseaworthiness against a vessel owner. A wrongful death action through DOHSA may only be for economic damages, such as medical expenses prior to death, funeral expenses, and loss of financial support. Non-economic damages, such as loss of consortium and punitive damages, are excluded.
The test of unseaworthiness is the same for wrongful death at sea as it is for the general maritime law. The failure of the vessel owner or shipowner to provide a vessel and gear that are reasonably fit for their intended purpose is considered unseaworthiness, and potentially grounds for action. If any of the following factors contributed to your loved one’s death at sea, you may have a case for unseaworthiness under DOHSA:
- Incompetent crew or lack of adequate crew training
- Crewmembers who are assaultive and violent
- Inadequate number of crewmembers
- Lack of appropriate safety measures or equipment
- Failure of equipment or appurtenance under proper and expected use
- Improper placement of otherwise seaworthy equipment
The terms equipment and appurtenance do not necessarily indicate everything on the vessel, but their definition is also not limited to ship-type equipment such as a winch, rope, ladder, pad-eye, or shackle. An experienced maritime injury attorney can help you determine if your loved one’s death on the high seas was due to unseaworthiness. Then, your qualified maritime injury attorney can establish a case at court to fight for the damages you and your family need and deserve.
How does the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness Correlate With Maintenance and Cure?
All seamen have the right to maintenance and cure; it is owed when a seaman becomes “ill or injured while in the service of the ship.” Maintenance and cure is provided to injured or ill seamen regardless of who is at-fault (e.g., employer, crew member, or yourself).
Under the doctrine of unseaworthiness, seamen are entitled to recover damages for injuries in consequence of the unseaworthiness of the ship, and the damages available may not exceed the maintenance and cure benefits.
For instance, if the injured seaman has their medical expenses covered as part of “cure,” they cannot recover for the same expense a second time as part of an unseaworthiness claim. However, if the injured seaman’s medical expenses were not covered by “cure,” then they could be covered by an unseaworthiness claim.
Maritime Injury Attorneys for Unseaworthiness in the Pacific Northwest
A shipowner or vessel owner has an absolute duty and obligation to provide a seaman with a seaworthy vessel and crew. If the vessel’s equipment or crew are inadequate for the purpose for which it was intended for, and a seaman’s injuries were caused because of the inadequacy, then the vessel is unseaworthy, and the shipowner can be held responsible for the damages the seaman sustained. If you work on a vessel and have suffered injuries because of the vessel’s unseaworthiness, seek legal representation. Having an experienced maritime lawyer on your side can help you determine your options, file your claim, and much more. At BoatLaw, LLP, we make sure to help our clients every step of the way so that they can have a smooth recovery.
If you have suffered an injury on a vessel due to unseaworthiness in Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, or the related waters, contact the passionate and skilled maritime injury attorneys of BoatLaw, LLP with offices in Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, and San Francisco. They will fight for the maximum compensation you deserve, whether it means obtaining a fair settlement or going to trial. Your first consultation with BoatLaw, LLP is free, so call 1 (800) 262-8529 today and schedule yours.