Unseaworthiness is a special legal concept under maritime law. The term may sound dire, but a vessel does not need to be taking on water in order to be considered unseaworthy. Unseaworthiness simply means that a vessel, its equipment, or its crew is not fit for its intended purpose.
The duty of seaworthiness is owed by vessel owners and operators to mariners who qualify as seamen. The duty is non-delegable. If a seaman in injured due to unseaworthy condition, he or she may be entitled to compensation under maritime law. However, only a seaman—a member of a commercial vessel’s crew—can make a claim for unseaworthiness.
Seaworthiness is a duty that covers the vessel from tip to stern. That includes heavy equipment, tools, appliances, engines, and crew. The doctrine does not require the entire vessel unseaworthy. Nor does it mean that the vessel is in such bad shape that it cannot safely proceed on a voyage. In fact, you may be surprised what qualifies as an unseaworthy condition. Some common examples are:
Equipment beyond its working life
Improperly designed equipment
Missing or broken rails
Lack of safety gear or safety equipment
Long working hours
Unsafe means of ingress and egress
Unsafe means of operation
Lack of supervision
Inadequate safety procedures
They key to unseaworthiness is that the claim can only be made by commercial mariners, also known as “seamen.” That implicates countless vessels on the oceans, bays, harbors, lakes, rivers, and United States (and the rest of the world too). Typical vessels involved in unseaworthiness claims may include commercial fishing boats, tugboats, barges, ferries, cruise ships, tankers, container ships, dry bulk ships, and car carriers.
If a seaman is injured or killed due to exposure to an unseaworthy condition, the seaman or his or her surviving family members may be entitled to money damages from the owner of the vessel. This is an ancient maritime law principle. Compensation may include loss of past and future earnings, medical reimbursements, pain and suffering, and disability.
If you or a loved one were hurt or tragically killed as a result of an unseaworthy condition aboard a vessel, you may be entitled to money damages under maritime law. Call an experienced maritime attorney at Mariner Law, PLLC for a free consultation about your potential claim: (253) 600-2531. The firm serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.