Articles Posted in Maritime Law

The U.S. Congress has not adopted a workers’ compensation statute applicable to seamen. This contrasts with federal workers’ compensation statutes created for federal workers (FECA) and longshore and harbor workers (LHWCA).

The differences between the remedies available under the federal statutes and those available to injured seamen are many and substantial. This blog briefly summarizes the remedies available to seamen who become sick or injured during their employment aboard vessels engaged in navigation on navigable waters.

Injured seamen have the potential for remedies under three different systems. The first is maintenance and cure. In terms of available remedies, this system most closely resembles state and federal workers’ compensation systems. Maintenance is lost wages and cure is medical care. The benefits are supposed to be provided without regard to fault and last until the injured seaman has reached maximum medical cure or maximum medical improvement. Maintenance and cure benefits are paid by the employer.

The second system provides for compensation against the vessel owner under general maritime law. This is a negligence-based system. Vessel owners owe seamen a duty of providing a seaworthy vessel. To be compensated under this system, seamen must prove that an unseaworthy condition played a substantial part in bringing about or actually causing the injury, and that the injury was either a direct result or a reasonable probable consequence of the unseaworthiness.
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Neither railway workers nor seamen injured on the job are covered by any state workers’ compensation system. However, they are not left unprotected. Both are covered by systems that in many respects surpass anything available under any state workers’ compensation system.

Railway workers are covered by the Federal Employees’ Liabilities Act (FELA), while seamen accidents are governed by the Jones Act. The two bodies of law are nearly identical in substance and form.

In contrast, there are significant differences between FELA/Jones Act and state workers’ compensation systems.

State workers’ compensation systems are no-fault systems, meaning that injured employees need not show that their injuries were caused through some fault of the employer. As long as the accident happened in the course and scope of the employment, the injured worker should be covered. Railway workers and seamen must prove negligence on the part of the employer.

Negligence can sometimes be difficult to prove. However, because of the inherent dangers involved in railway and maritime work, the common law (case derived law) has evolved to make the standard of proof lower than it is in other types of negligence cases. In other words, it is somewhat less difficult to prove negligence in railway and seamen accidents than it is in other types of cases.

There is also a difference in the type and quality of benefits available between the two systems.

Most, if not all, state workers’ compensation systems bar compensation for pain and suffering. Lawmakers have decided that this is a fair tradeoff for not having to prove negligence. FELA and the Jones Act do not bar compensation for pain and suffering.
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The Port of Miami is one of the busiest cruise ship ports in the world. Thousands of passengers from around the world sail from its docks weekly. Many of these passengers become victims of cruise ship negligence, from food poisoning, to slipping and falling, to onboard sexual molestation. For those individuals thinking of bringing suit against any of the various Miami-based cruise line companies, the following basic considerations must be taken into account:

  1. The target defendant must be given written notice within six (6) months of the accident. This requirement will be contained in small print on the back of the cruise ticket. Failure to give this notice will bar further action against the ship owner. Given the harshness of this rule, it is advisable to send the notice by certified mail, return receipt requested. Better to be safe than sorry.
  2. The lawsuit must be filed within one (1) year of the accident. This requirement will also be contained in fine print on the back of the cruise ticket. It is enforceable. Many lawyers unfamiliar with this requirement have mistakenly concluded that Florida’s four year statute of limitations for negligence cases applies. It does not.
  3. Regardless of where the accident happens or where the victim resides, the venue of the case will be In Miami, Florida and the court with jurisdiction over the cause of action will be the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida. We recently settled a case against Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines involving an accident on the high seas involving a gentleman from Terra Haute, Indiana. The lawsuit had to be filed in the Federal Court in Miami.

Cruise ship negligence cases can be a trap for the unwary. This is a specialized area of law and a specialist should be consulted to handle the case.
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