General Maritime Law calls for a vessel’s owner to ensure that the workplace they provide for their employees is safe. If they violate this duty, then it allows the injured worker to file an unseaworthiness claim.
It’s important for you to understand that these laws cover a wide variety of workers. This is due in large part to the fact that “vessel” doesn’t just refer to a boat or ship. Instead, it also is used to describe moored casino boats, offshore production platforms or oil rigs, any land transportation that a company provides, barges that don’t have motors yet have sleeping quarters and even helicopters.
In order to be eligible to file an unseaworthiness claim, the injury that a worker suffered must have been as a result of conditions aboard the vessel that could be deemed correctable or avoidable. Whatever factors that led to the worker getting hurt must have gone unnoticed because necessary inspections weren’t performed, maintenance records weren’t kept, or due to poor design or construction.
If the defective gear that was being used on the vessel caused unnecessary injuries or the method of unloading cargo could be deemed inappropriate, then an unseaworthiness claim may also be filed.
Such a claim can even be filed if a vessel’s crew was found to have been improperly trained or was so insufficient as to have been a major contributing factor in causing a worker’s injuries.
Unseaworthiness claims that have been filed in the past have had to do with how a vessel’s poor design or maintenance made it unstable in the high seas. Others have been filed because the safety equipment was lacking, including scaffolding that the owners provided to their workers. Cases have also been filed over slippery stairways or decks or malfunctioning cranes, hoists, winches and pulleys.
Additionally, cases have been filed because bunks in crew sleeping areas have too little headroom or didn’t have ladders to make them easily accessible. Cases stemming from a vessel’s owner providing inferior equipment to prepare food or inadequate cooking facilities aren’t uncommon either.
One of the reasons that crewmembers on vessels have maritime laws that apply specifically to them is because they’re ineligible for workers’ compensation coverage. Seamen are entitled to compensation for injuries regardless of who is at fault for them. Before you sign a release waiving maintenance and cure, you should first call attorney John W. Merting. John has over 40 years of experience representing seamen and maritime cases and can advise you of your rights.