Almost every mechanical means of water transportation will expose seafarers to some type of specialized equipment and machinery. Shipboard equipment can be found on recreational and commercial vessels alike, though there is typically more heavy equipment on commercial ships.
Serious safety issues arise when equipment malfunctions, fails, or suffers from a design flaw. These are leading causes in maritime injuries for merchant mariners and recreational boaters. Common equipment failure injuries arise from mechanical or electrical equipment like motors, engines, winches, cranes, safety equipment, lighting, hydraulics, electronics, booms, pumps, elevators, chutes, conveyors, heaters, buckets, pulleys, and processing machinery. Other more basic equipment can also become defective and render them unsafe for use. These sometimes include ladders, stairs, latches, chairs, tables, harnesses, and pins. Defective equipment can manifest in explosions or other catastrophic failures with many personal injuries all at once—or even the loss of a ship.
It’s hard to fathom the number of moving parts on vessels the size of container ships and dry bulk carriers. They can be hundreds of feet long, carry thousands of tons of cargo, and travel from continent to continent in varying conditions. It is critical that shipboard equipment perform its function as intended in order to keep passengers, crewmembers, and cargo safe. The same is true for every other vessel in commerce, including tugs, barges, tankers, ro-ro carriers, ferries, cruise ships, dinner boats, and pleasure craft. When equipment breaks at sea, it may result in fires, explosions, drifting, sinkings, groundings, man overboard, cargo loss, or search and rescue. This exposes crewmember and passengers to all kinds of serious injuries like:
Lost limbs (like fingers)
These risks are universal to mariners of all kinds, including commercial fishermen, officers, deckhands, ordinary seamen, able seamen, engineers, masters, mates, ferry workers, tankermen, and pleasure boaters.
While a vessel owner and maritime employer have duties to provide seaworthy vessels and a safe place to work, they are not the only parties potentially liable for defective equipment and machinery. Sometimes third parties may also be to blame for personal injuries. Products that should have included safety guards, were missing parts, or were just poorly designed can make a manufacturer liable under maritime tort law as well.
Longshoremen, harbor workers, ship repairmen, sand blasters, painters, and other workers servicing vessel along the shore can also suffer from product defects. These men and women regularly work with heavy machinery like industry sanders, vacuums, welders, paint guns, cutters, cranes, lifts, and other power tools. Any one of these tools could malfunction and cause injury on ship or shore due to the negligence of another.
There are four primary types of claimants for when defective products cause injuries on or near the water: commercial seamen, longshoremen, passengers, and pleasure boaters. Each class of claimant may be entitled to different forms of compensation under different statutes or common law.
Passengers injured by defective products may have a claim under the general maritime law. This ancient tort remedy requires vessel owner, port operators, and equipment manufacturers to act with a minimum standard of care. If that duty is breached, the potential defendant may be liable for damages, including pain and suffering, lost income (past and future), permanent disability, and medical expenses.
Longshoremen who are injured by defective equipment on the job may receive benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The trade off for these benefits is that the longshoreman may not be able to sue his or her employer for their negligence in relation to the defect. However, salty maritime counsel can help you look for exceptions to this general rule. Regardless of suing an employer, longshoremen are usually able to sue negligent vessel owners or potentially liable third parties. This is a complex area of the law.
Shipboard maritime workers, known as seamen, are entitled to entirely different benefits when they are hurt by defective products while in service of a vessel. The Jones Act was created by Congress over a century ago. It makes clear that maritime employers like vessel owners and operators must give their maritime workers a safe place to work. Otherwise, the maritime employer may be liable for negligence under the Jones Act. Another general maritime law available only to commercial seafarers is unseaworthiness. This is a claim for damages resulting from a part of the ship or crew that it not fit for its duty. Finally, whenever a mariner is hurt on the job, he or she is likely entitled to maintenance, cure, and unearned wages. Maintenance helps pay for a recuperating maritime employee’s living expenses. Cure is payment for medical expenses related to the on-the-job injury. Maintenance and cure are owed until the Jones Act seaman reached maximum medical improvement—a determination made by the seaman’s treating doctor. Finally, the injured mariner may be owed unearned wages. Those are the wages that should have been earned if the mariner had not been injured and could have completed their contract.
The outcome of defective products in the maritime industry can range from catastrophic casualties to broken bones, and everything in between. Merchant mariners, crewmembers, shoreside workers, and passengers can all suffer as a result. Maritime law is old and complicated. Rest assured that the insurance company and claims adjusters for businesses and vessel owners will understand these concepts and try to pay you as little as possible. Don’t go it alone. If you or a loved one was hurt or killed by defective marine equipment, call Mariner Law, PLLC for a free consultation with a Jones Act lawyer today: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.