If a vessel's crewmember is injured during his employment, he may be able to bring claims under the Jones Act for negligence or under general maritime law for unseaworthiness. It's well-settled that maritime employers are bound by a "dut[y] to avoid unseaworthiness and negligence," and that "injuries caused by a breach of either duty are compensable." Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. v. Garris, 532, U.S. 811, 813, 121 S.Ct. 1927, 150 L.Ed.2d 34 (2001). While an injury may justify relief under both causes of action, the applicable standards for each are different.
When a claim is brought under the Jones Act, "[a] seaman injured in the course of employment . . . may elect to bring a civil action . . . against [his] employer." 46 U.S.C. § 30104. A prima facie case for Jones Act negligence requires the plaintiff prove "(1) that a dangerous condition actually existed on the ship; (2) that the defendant shipowner had notice of the dangerous condition and should have reasonably anticipated the plaintiff might be injured by it; and (3) that if the shipowner was negligent, such negligence proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries."
Under general maritime law, "[t]he doctrine of seaworthiness establishes that every shipowner owes an absolute and non-delegable duty to seamen properly aboard its vessel to provide a seaworthy ship." Martinez, 2016 WL 126449, at *2 (internal quotations omitted.). Under the principles of seaworthiness, "an owner has an absolute duty to furnish a ship, crew, and appurtenances reasonably fit for their intended services." Oxley, 923 F.2d at 24; Additionally, it is widely acknowledged that "a vessel being operated by an incompetent . . . crew is considered unseaworthy."
In a recent decision from a federal court in the Eastern District of New York, a vessel's crewmember was awarded a large sum of money for injuries sustained to his shoulder. You can read the decision and learn about how the Court applied the general maritime law by clicking HERE.
If you or a loved one is injured aboard a vessel, contact an admiralty attorney at Fulweiler llc by calling 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293).
Underway and making way.
By: John K. Fulweiler