Seafarer Unseaworthiness Injury & Accident

Crew members by whatever name, i.e., merchant marine, seafarer, deck hand, ship’s officer, aboard whatever type of vessel, i.e., cruise ship, dredge, tug, ferry, yacht, tanker, cargo carrier, oil rig, possess a strict liability claim against a shipowner in the event an accident leading to personal injury or death due to an “unfit” vessel or fellow crewmember. Having previously represented cruise ship companies, ship and vessel operators, and yacht owners for 19 years, the board certified maritime attorneys at the law firm of Brais Brais & Rusak are in a unique position to serve crew members who have suffered personal injury or death due to an accident while aboard any type of “vessel”, i.e., a cruise ship, tanker, yacht, tug, ferry or workboat. The lawyers at the law firm of Brais Brais & Rusak with offices in Miami, Florida, Boston, Massachusetts and Houston, Texas are here to help crewmembers injured as a result of an accident aboard any one of these vessels.

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The warranty of unseaworthiness is the absolute and non-delegable duty of a shipowner or vessel operator to provide a crewmember a vessel that is reasonably fit for its intended purpose. The warranty of seaworthiness extends to the hull of the ship, the ship’s cargo handling machinery, hand tools aboard the ship, ropes and tackle, and all kinds of equipment either belonging to the ship or brought aboard by stevedores. A violation of a statute or regulation, relating to safety will justify a finding of unseaworthiness per se (a presumption of unseaworthiness). The finding of an unseaworthiness condition does not require that a vessel leave a port in an unseaworthy condition. Rather, a transitory or temporary condition that develops after a vessel has left port can violate the warranty of seaworthiness even if the shipowner or operator is unaware of its existence.

Crew members working aboard a vessel are subject to unique and constant risks of serious personal injury and even death. If you were injured while working aboard a vessel as a seaman, crewmember, deck hand or commercial fisherman, you may be protected by federal maritime law.

The law protects crew members of every rank and national origin from the captain and mate in the wheelhouse to deckhands, wipers, housekeepers, engineers, fish processors, cooks and tour guides aboard a vessel. The law does not discriminate - the lowest crewmen aboard the vessel have the same rights as the captain. The law also protects crew members that work aboard vessels during the day and return home at night.

If you were injured while working as a crew member, you may be entitled to past and future lost wages, past and future medical expenses, vocational and occupational retraining, past and future pain and suffering, psychological suffering. Some serious injuries limit the number and types of jobs available to an injury victim. In this situation, crew members and seamen are entitled to damages for lost earning capacity. Additionally, if your injury will worsen with time, and cut short your career, you are entitled to future lost wages for this loss.

A crew member who is injured may sue his employer and/or shipowner under theories of:

  1. Jones Act Negligence,
  2. Unseaworthiness,
  3. Maintenance and cure,
  4. Unearned or Sick Wages,
  5. Breach Of Contract,
  6. Earned Penalty Wages,
  7. Wrongful Discharge From Employment, and
  8. Additional Claims.

Each of these claims requires certain elements to be proven to the Judge or Jury deciding your case. If one of the needed elements is not proven, your claim may be dismissed. This means that you will not get compensation for your injury. Knowing what elements must be proven under each maritime claim and how to prove these elements has been the business of the board certified maritime lawyers at the law firm of Brais Brais & Rusak for more than 28 years.

Seafarer Unseaworthiness FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Who Is Entitled To The Warranty Of Unseaworthiness?

Crewmembers, officers, captains and masters of any vessel (whether American or foreign) are entitled to the warranty of unseaworthiness. The warranty of seaworthiness does not extend to passengers, visitors or guests, it is a unique form of strict liability against a yacht or vessel owner to the benefit of a crewmember.

What Is The Difference Between Jones Act Negligence And Unseaworthiness?

The Jones Act is a negligence based claim meaning that the employer must have some degree of fault in causing the accident. Unseaworthiness, on the other hand, holds a shipowner/operator strictly liable for an injury caused by an unfit vessel, equipment or co-worker even if the shipowner/operator is unaware of the condition. Furthermore, a Jones Act claim can only be brought against the crewmember’s employer whereas an unseaworthiness claim may be brought against the vessel owner or operator.

What Are Examples Of Unseaworthiness?

Examples of the breach of the warranty of unseaworthiness include:

  • Defective or Improperly Maintained Hull, Gear, Equipment & Tools
  • Inadequately Trained Crew or Incompetent Captain
  • Unreasonably Slippery Decks, Gangways and Ladders
  • Deck Obstructions
  • Incompetent or inadequate Crew
  • Unsafe Method of Work
  • Carrying Heavy loads
  • Unreasonably Stressful Work Schedules Causing Fatigue
  • Failure of Vessel Equipment Under Normal Use
  • Slippery Decks
  • Unsafe Ladders and Stairs
  • Failure to Provide Appropriate Protective Clothing
  • Unfit Cargo
  • Inadequate Safety Equipment
  • Improperly Trained Ship’s Doctor
What Is The Defense Of The Primary Duty Doctrine?

The “primary duty doctrine” bars a plaintiff’s recovery if his or her injury arises from a condition created by the seamen’s own breach of a contractual duty which s/he assumed as a term of employment. The majority rule is that the primary duty doctrine should only apply to officers; and not to ordinary seamen. Courts will look to see if the seamen involved had some supervisory function aboard the vessel before applying the doctrine. The doctrine does not apply if negligence of the employer contributed to the injury.

What Types of Damages Am I Entitled To Under An Unseaworthiness Claim?

There are several types of damages that can be sought under an unseaworthiness claim which include:

  • Pain and Suffering – Although it is difficult to put a dollar amount on the pain and suffering that you may have endured during your injury, this amount will be carefully estimated to be appropriate in compensating you for the hardships of your injury.
  • Disfigurement – Many severe injuries impact the way someone looks, walks and/or hears. If this happens, a crewmember may be entitled to disfigurement damages, which are intended to compensate someone for the embarrassment that they feel due to how they look after the accident.
  • Mental Anguish – If your injury has affected your ability to enjoy life and all of the things that you loved to do before you were injured, you are eligible to seek damages for mental anguish.
  • Lost Wages/Lost Earning Capacity – Unseaworthiness is designed to compensate workers who have lost wages for the time that they were unable to work due to injury. Unseaworthiness also covers seamen who have recovered from their injuries but are not able to earn wages at the same level that they did before they were injured. If your earning capacity has been affected by your injury, you may legally seek damages for this change in pay.
  • Medical/Assisted Living Expenses – If you have been injured while working on a vessel, you will need to seek medical attention to recover. Health care is very expensive and an unseaworthiness allows compensation for any hospital care, medications, surgeries and any assisted living services that you require during your injury. Ongoing medical expenses may also be sought if your injury will affect your life for years to come.

The attorneys at the law firm of Brais Brais & Rusak have the experience to protect your rights, the compassion to serve your needs, and the skill to obtain the compensation you deserve. To reach our lawyers you may click email the firm, call 1-800-499-0551 from within the U.S., Skype BraisLaw worldwide or click Contact Us to select and complete a form for a free evaluation of your case.


Related Topics:
Related Reference:
  • Ship’s Medical Negligence: Respondeat Superior or Strict Liability; Presented by Keith S. Brais, Esq., at the International Council of Cruise Lines 2006 Legal & Insurance Seminar, in Washington, D.C.

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