Are You Working on an Unseaworthy Vessel?
If you’re a seaman who has been injured working on a vessel, your injury claim may fall into one of two categories: employer negligence, or unseaworthiness of a vessel. While these two things can be related, unseaworthiness under general maritime law requires a slightly lesser burden of proof. If you’re working on an unseaworthy vessel, you may or may not have a Jones Act claim, but you may still have a claim under general maritime law.
What Makes a Vessel Unseaworthy?
Legally speaking, to be considered a seaworthy vessel, it must be “reasonably fit for its intended purpose and to complete and accomplish its mission.” The duty to provide a seaworthy vessel extends to providing safe equipment and a competent crew. If a vessel isn’t fit for its purpose or capable of completing its task, the vessel may be unseaworthy.
Things which can render a vessel unseaworthy include:
- Faulty design
- Defective equipment
- Lack of safety equipment
- Inadequate crew
- Improper training
- Lack of supervision
- Breach of Safety Statutes
Unseaworthiness under general maritime law is a strict liability doctrine. This means that an accident that causes injury doesn’t need to be foreseeable for there to be liability. Even temporary or transitory conditions can create an unseaworthy vessel.
Breach of Safety Statute
Safety statutes are extremely important in determining whether a vessel is unseaworthy. If a vessel breaches a safety statute, such as a United States Coast Guard Regulation or the Fishing Vessel Safety Act, the vessel may be found unseaworthy as a matter of law. If a breach of safety statute exists, the vessel owner may be liable.
Negligence as it Relates to Unseaworthiness
Seaworthiness is independent of negligence. It is a condition that exists independent of negligence, although negligence can cause unseaworthiness. In many cases, claims of negligence under the Jones Act, and claims of unseaworthiness under general maritime law, are brought jointly.
Jones Act negligence claims generally require a higher burden of proof than unseaworthiness claims. In an unseaworthy claim, the seaman must show that a condition exists that renders the vessel unseaworthy. In a Jones Act negligence claim, a seaman must prove that the owner was aware of a problem and his negligence caused the seaman’s injury. These two areas of law are closely related, and an experienced maritime lawyer can help you determine which type of law applies to your case.