As a seaman injured on the job, you have a few different avenues for getting compensation from your employer or employer’s insurer. You are entitled to maintenance and cure, regardless of negligence in the incident. If there is negligence, and you can prove that it contributed to your injury, you can sue for compensation under the Jones Act. Finally, you can also get compensation through the doctrine of unseaworthiness if you can show that the vessel aboard which you were injured was not seaworthy and that this unseaworthiness contributed to your injury.
Unseaworthiness and Absolute Duty
The doctrine of unseaworthiness comes from the concept of absolute duty. This is a concept in maritime law that states the owner of a vessel has a duty and a responsibility to provide seamen with a ship that is seaworthy. The owner must keep a vessel in good working order and update or replace any aspect of the ship that could cause injuries. Not doing so makes the owner liable for the expenses incurred in the case of an injury. These could include medical bills, lost wages, and other costs. A shop owner may even be found to be criminally liable if he or she knew about unseaworthiness and allowed seamen to work aboard the ship in spite of it.
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Qualifications for Unseaworthiness
The maritime concept of unseaworthiness is not as straightforward as it may seem initially. A vessel that cannot navigate on the water, that would sink or capsize, is certainly unseaworthy, but the definition of the term in the eyes of the law, is much broader. Working as a seaman aboard a vessel is inherently risky, even if all precautions have been taken. Your employer is obligated to provide you with a vessel that has been prepared in every way to be seaworthy, not just in its ability to float and move through water.
The doctrine states that a ship owner has a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel and to maintain its seaworthiness. A ship or vessel that is seaworthy is one that is fit for its intended purpose. It also must include equipment and parts that are fit for their intended purposes. If any part of the ship, or equipment on it, is not in fit shape, the vessel is unseaworthy.
Being seaworthy also includes the crew of a ship. To be seaworthy a vessel must have a crew operating it that is competent and trained to do assigned work. If any member of the crew has not been trained properly or has been hired to do a job for which he or she is inadequate, the vessel may be considered unseaworthy.
Making a Claim of Unseaworthiness
If you were injured aboard a ship and you think that you claim unseaworthiness, there are a few requirements that must be met. The first is that you are, according to definition, a seaman. This means that you must be employed on a vessel in navigation and in work that contributes to the mission of the ship. You must also spend a significant proportion of your work hours, usually interpreted as at least 30 percent, aboard the vessel in question.
In addition to meeting the requirements for being defined a seaman, you must also be able to prove that the vessel aboard which you received your injury was unseaworthy. You also have to prove that the unseaworthiness of the vessel contributed in a significant way to your injury. There are many examples of situations which could be considered under the doctrine:
- A member of the crew was inadequately trained to perform his duties and a mistake he made caused you to be injured.
- Your employer did not hire enough crew members to adequately do the jobs aboard the ship, and you were injured as a result.
- The equipment you need to do your job had not been maintained regularly and this caused you to have an accident and injury while using it.
- The deck of your ship was not maintained and you slipped and fell.
- Asbestos aboard the ship was not contained or removed properly and you became ill as a result.
- Harmful cargo was not properly stored or contained and exposure caused you to be injured or ill.
If you believe you can make a claim of unseaworthiness that caused your injury on the job as a seaman and your employer is refusing to compensate you, find a lawyer experienced in maritime law. A knowledgeable attorney can help you get the compensation that the law provides for you.