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Steven M. Lee, PC

Unseaworthy Vessels Make Your Injuries Worthy of Compensation

Be alert to signs that your vessel is not seaworthyNo matter your job, you should feel as though your workspace is relatively safe. It doesn’t matter whether your job requires you to play with puppies all day or traverse the high seas in an oil tanker, your employer is required to provide a safe and secure work environment.

Maritime employers and vessel owners are no exception. When it comes to maritime work environments, the Jones Act requires employers and owners to ensure that the ship, vessel, or rig their employees work on is seaworthy…but what exactly does that mean?

Maritime law and the Jones Act demand that the ship, equipment, and every crew member on board are in good condition. “Good condition” means that they can safely perform their duties without issue. When a part of a ship fails to perform safely, it is considered unseaworthy.

The Risks of Being Unseaworthy

When most people think of a ship that is unseaworthy, they likely picture a ship that is barely afloat. However, a vessel does not have to be in danger of sinking to be considered unseaworthy. For Jones Act purposes, the standards in which the term “unseaworthy” is used are much more precise. A vessel can be deemed unfit for sea by having hazardous quarters or work surroundings, as well as by having improper safety gear and equipment. According to the Jones Act, any conditions onboard that could potentially relate to the safety of the crew are considered relevant to the vessel’s seaworthiness.

In other words, if any of the following conditions exist on a vessel, it ought to be considered unseaworthy:

  • Defective gear, equipment, and machinery. When the equipment in or onboard doesn’t work properly, the crew is at risk for a malfunction causing a catastrophic accident.
  • Inadequate crew. Improperly or poorly trained crew members can place the others at risk for accidents and injuries, including slip and fall accidents, capsizing, and explosions.
  • Dangerous substances. The presence of oil, rust, or grease, or flammable and toxic chemicals can lead to fires and explosions.
  • Poor maintenance. When “adequate” equipment isn’t maintained, it can quickly become “inadequate” placing the crew in danger offshore—in some cases, hundreds of miles offshore.
  • Crew member violence. When forced to live together for weeks or even months at a time, crew members must be able to get along. If violence erupts between crew members, the entire vessel could be affected.

All of these factors can cause a vessel to become unseaworthy. More importantly, it can lead to serious injuries, including death.

Consequences and Compensation

Whether you are a rookie crew member or a long-time captain, maritime law protects you if you’ve suffered unseaworthy-vessel accident injuries. The unseaworthiness doctrine entitles you the option to file a claim against the vessel’s owner or operator.

The unseaworthiness doctrine holds a vessel’s owner or operator liable if an injury is incurred as a result of the vessel being unsafe in any manner. If you’re hurt because of a breach of the warranty of seaworthiness, you’re entitled to compensable damages that include:

  • Medical expenses. The injuries you sustained as a result of a vessel’s unseaworthiness will require medical treatment, and you may be able to receive compensation for your related health care costs during recovery.
  • Lost wages and earning potential. Your offshore injury may have diminished your ability to work; an unseaworthiness claim can help you recover the money that your injuries have prevented you from earning.
  • Pain and suffering. While there is no price tag on pain, you can seek damages for the painful challenges you have faced as a result of your injury.
  • Emotional distress and disfigurement. Enjoyment of life is another concept in which it’s hard to place value. But if your injury has prevented you from enjoying your life and doing what makes you happy, you may be able to collect damages.

For more information on maritime law or to speak with a highly knowledgeable maritime lawyer, contact our office today. Maritime law can be tough to understand, and you may need a dependable navigator to guide you through the treacherous waters. Come see how and why we’re the navigator for you. Call us at 800-232-3711 to get the information you need to shore up your Jones Act claim.


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