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U.S. General Maritime Law – Unseaworthiness Claims

Jones Act Claims

About Unseaworthiness Claims

Working at sea can be a tough, grueling and risky job. Being employed on a vessel on navigable waters carries with it a whole host of unique machinery, work detail and potentials for danger. Because vessels are often so far from help on land, sailors have an increased risk for fatalities.

Under U.S. maritime laws, vessel owners have an absolute duty to provide sailors with a seaworthy vessel and competent crew for their mission. Ship owners who fail to provide a safe vessel, properly working and maintained equipment or competent crew may be held liable in court for injuries caused by these and other shortcomings.

Sailors hurt do to a ship owner’s failure to follow the unseaworthiness doctrine may have actionable claims to recover for damages like lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages. The attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi, The Law Firm have spent years helping the injured get the compensation they deserve. Contact us if you believe you have a claim.

What is Unseaworthiness?

The unseaworthiness doctrine stems from general maritime law, a manifestation of U.S. common law, shaped by decades of legal precedent. Consequently, U.S. courts hold the ultimate duty to provide a reasonably safe and well crewed vessel resides with the ship’s owner. The owner may not transfer this duty to another party in any way.

The principles of seaworthiness are:

  • The owner owes the crew a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel
  • A ship may only be considered seaworthy if the ship and its equipment are reasonably suited for their task
  • Vessel owners do not have to furnish and accident free ship or have the best equipment and crews, they must only provide what is reasonably required for their mission

Injured sailors do not need to prove the vessel owner acted in a negligent manner. The ship owner’s duty is absolute, meaning the vessel is liable whether or not it knew about dangerous conditions.

Examples of Unseaworthiness

There are numerous ways vessel owners may be liable for injuries incurred do to the vessel’s unseaworthiness. They include:

  • Unmaintained equipment
  • Outdated equipment not proper for the task at hand
  • Hiring a captain inexperienced with the voyage ahead
  • Lack of safety protocols
  • Insufficient crew
  • Mechanical accidents
  • Hull breaches

Personal Injury

Under the doctrine of unseaworthiness, injured crew members can file suit to recover all the damages they suffered. Much like traditional, land-based torts, injury victims can file claims for:

  • Lost wages (past and future)
  • Disabilities
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Hospital bills including surgeries, medication, doctors visits, necessary medical equipment and physical therapy
  • Property damage

Wrongful Death

The unseaworthiness doctrine also allows surviving family members of deceased crew members to bring claims against ship owners whose failure to live up to their may have caused the fatality. Families of the deceased may file unseaworthiness claims to recover for not only their loved one’s economic and noneconomic damages but also their own.

Families may recover:

  • The deceased’s damages
  • Damages for the emotional anguish they suffered due to their loved one’s passing
  • Damages for loss of consortium, emotional support, moral guidance

Noneconomic damages suffered by surviving family members can be difficult to quantify and properly convey to wrongdoers failing to take responsibility for their breach of duty. Surviving family members should speak to a qualified maritime wrongful death attorney to make sure their claims are taken seriously.

Maintenance and Cure

Maintenance and cure is also part of U.S. general maritime law. Maintenance and cure helps pay for the injured sailor’s necessary household expenses like rent, some utilities, food, and taxes as well as any medical expenses related to treating the injury.

Maintenance and cure is a no-fault benefits system which means crew members are entitled to these benefits no matter who or what caused their workplace accident. These benefits cease when the injured sailor reaches his or her maximum medical improvement.

Injured sailors can file unseaworthiness injury claims to recover any income or medical treatment related to their accident that was not covered by maintenance and cure. While injury claims covered under maintenance and cure may only cover those provided for the duration of a contract or fishing season, filing unseaworthiness claims in cases of disability or diminished earning capacity can help sailors get all the compensation they deserve.

Wage Claims

Damages for lost wages are one of the most important claims injured sailors may make in a suit alleging unseaworthiness. One of the main components a claim stemming from a serious or even catastrophic injury claim is claims for future lost wages through diminished earning capacity or disability.

While maintenance and cure benefits provide some benefits for loss of limb or bodily function, these benefits may not provide all the compensation injured crew members may need to provide for themselves and their families. Injured sailors may be able to recover damages for all the wages lost from a disability.

Rewards or settlement offers for future lost wages may be adjusted for taxes, inflation, and living expenses. The advice of an economist may be necessary to properly calculate these types of lost wages.

Florida Maritime Injury Attorneys

If you or a loved one were hurt in the service of a vessel on navigable waters and need legal advice on how to proceed, contact the attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi, The Law Firm. Our firm has the experience needed to properly investigate the causes of maritime accidents and hold vessel owners accountable in cases of unseaworthiness of their ship. Our firm is proud of the work we do and represent our clients with dignity and respect.

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