Common Unseaworthy Conditions Constituting Jones Act Negligence

Seamen injured onboard vessels may be compensated based on two entirely different legal concepts: No-fault and Fault.

No-fault benefits include maintenance and cure. These benefits are provided by the employer and end when the injured seaman reaches maximum medical cure.

To receive these benefits, the employee need only show that the injuries occurred in the course and scope of the employment. It matters not what caused the injuries.

Fault-based compensation includes lost wages (past & future) and pain and suffering (past & future). This compensation comes from the employer and/or the vessel owner.

For an injured seaman to recover fault-based compensation, he must prove that the accident was caused by negligence on the part of the employer or the vessel owner.

Claims for fault-based compensation against the employer are brought under the Jones Act, while claims against the vessel owner are brought under traditional maritime unseaworthiness concepts. Although the concepts are somewhat different, there is, nevertheless, significant overlap between the two with regard to what constitutes fault.

This blog will not explain the distinctions between the two concepts with regard to negligence. That has already been done in detail in previous blogs. Instead, this blog will simply list some common conditions and situations that have constituted negligence against employers and vessel owners.

  • Improperly maintained vessels. Both the employer and the vessel owner have a duty to limit dangers by properly maintaining the vessel. Examples of proper maintenance include keeping the engines and hull in good working order.
  • Faulty onboard structures such as ladders and railings.
  • Lack of safety equipment. We recently resolved a case involving a serious back injury that was caused, in part, because the seaman, a deck hand, had not been issued a back brace.
  • Lack of adequate or competent crew. In the above example of the deck hand, his back injury was made worse when, after pain was first felt, he could not be relieved from performing a strenuous rescue operation because the ship was undermanned. He was forced to pull an additional five minutes until the Part Chief was able to come down from the bridge to relieve him.
  • Inadequate equipment.
  • Inadequate accommodations for nutritional and hygienic needs.
  • Slippery walking surfaces

Fault is often the point of contention in cases involving injuries to Seamen. Experienced legal advice is a necessity to take on the vast resources of the employers and vessel owners in this serious and consequential fight.
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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.