Maritime law is a complex and ancient area of law, also known as admiralty law. General maritime law governs injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States. Often general maritime law and maritime statutes are favorable to workers and other mariners injured on the job.
Maritime laws are distinct from other types of injury or disability law, including state workers' compensation laws. Maritime laws may apply to those who are injured on or near the water. Because maritime laws are very specialized, not many attorneys have the knowledge or experience necessary to handle an admiralty law case.
Remedies under maritime law that may be available to injured mariners include Jones Act negligence, Maintenance and Cure, Unseaworthiness, and General Maritime Law Negligence.
The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, protects U.S. maritime workers in the event of injury or illness while on the job. For compensation, a maritime worker must qualify as a “seaman.”
A seaman is a person who spends 30% of his working time aboard a vessel in navigable waters and whose role aboard the vessel contributes to the mission of the voyage. Examples of a seaman may include:
The Jones Act requires a vessel owner to provide its seamen with a reasonably safe place to work and use ordinary care under the circumstances to maintain and keep the vessel in a reasonably safe condition. The Jones Act burden of proof has been said to be "feather-weight," meaning that almost any unsafe condition on a vessel, however small, may lead to liability for an injury under the Jones Act.
Examples of qualifying conditions may include:
Slippery substances on deck
Poorly maintained equipment
Failure to require the crew to follow safe work methods
A seaman who is injured or becomes ill while working on a vessel may be eligible for maintenance and cure benefits. Maintenance and cure are unique to maritime law.
Maintenance requires the vessel owner to provide certain overhead and living expenses during a mariner's recovery. This benefit may entitle a seaman to the money needed to pay rent, utilities, groceries, insurance, taxes, and other home-related expenses. Cure requires a vessel owner to pay for the seaman’s medical expenses, which may include medical bills, treatment, filling prescriptions, transportation to appointment, physical therapy, etc.
The right to maintenance and cure is not limited to injuries that occur aboard a vessel. Seamen may also be entitled to benefits where they become sick or ill while on the job. In fact, the seaman’s illness does not even need to be work-related. To qualify for the benefits, the sickness need only develop while the seaman is acting in service of the vessel.
A vessel owner may continue to owe maintenance and cure to an injured or ill seaman until the seaman’s condition cannot be further improved (called “maximum medical cure” or “MMI”). MMI is determined by a doctor. While some seamen may be fully cured when they are declared MMI, others may continue to suffer a chronic condition even after reaching MMI.
Another remedy that may be available to seamen is unseaworthiness. The unseaworthiness doctrine applies to negligence caused by an unseaworthy vessel. A seaworthy vessel is built, maintained, crewed, and equipped to perform their intended voyage.
Similar to Jones Act negligence, unseaworthiness can take many forms, including:
Slippery substances on decks, leading to slips and falls
Worn out equipment or fixtures
Lack of proper safety equipment
Worn-out safety equipment
Tools or equipment breaking with normal use
Improperly trained crewmembers
Excessive working hours
Absence of safety procedures
Violation of a Coast Guard regulations
Under a general maritime law, a vessel owner can be found liable for damages caused by their negligence. Simply stated, the vessel owner must do what a “reasonable” vessel owner would have done under the circumstances. An experienced maritime attorney can help persuade a judge or jury that the vessel owner was negligent by failing to act reasonably.
A key component of maritime negligence is comparative fault. Under comparative fault, damages are allocated amongst all parties who are at least somewhat at fault. For example, if a jury finds that the plaintiff was responsible for 30% of his or her own injuries, then 30% will be deducted from the total damages he or she is eligible to receive.
Typical injury claimants under general maritime law include recreational boaters and vessels passengers.
If you or a loved one has been injured on or near the water, Mariner Law, PLLC is here to help. Please call (253) 600-2531 for a no obligation assessment from a seasoned maritime attorney. The firm has a strong track record of attaining excellent results for injured clients. The initial consultation is free. The firm serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.