The Spiel on Unseaworthiness

Anyone who has worked around the maritime industry can attest to the fact that being a seaman is dangerous. Seamen have to worry about dangerous equipment, inclement weather, and, however remote, and a number of other dangers while working in the U.S. waters. Unfortunately, unscrupulous vessel owners sometimes add to these dangers by maintaining vessels that are plain unsafe, whether out of laziness, bad practice, or the desire to save a few dollars. The law has provided a way for individuals who are injured to punish these rogue vessel owners and perhaps have a little compensation at the end of the day to take home, through a type of claim called unseaworthiness. Listed below are several ways by which an unseaworthiness claim may arise.

First, a vessel may be unseaworthy when there is something wrong with it or its equipment. For example, an exposed wire may pose a shock hazard. If the seaman happens to touch that exposed wire and get an electrical shock, the seaman may be able to sue the vessel owner for having a vessel that was unseaworthy. What is more, in the case of a lawsuit, the vessel owner would be strictly liable; that is to say, the seaman would only have to show that something was wrong with the vessel to recover damages. As such, it is easier than normal for a seaman to recover under an unseaworthiness claim.

Second, a vessel may be unseaworthy when there is something wrong with the ship’s living quarters. Unseaworthiness extends to all areas of the ship, including, for example, the bed, bath, and kitchen areas. So, if somehow a seaman is injured by an exposed wire in the shower, the seaman would be able to recover from a vessel owner exactly like if the defect was present on the bridge of the vessel.

Third, a vessel may be unseaworthy even if nothing is physically wrong with the vessel, but the vessel is understaffed or manned by a bunch of incompetents. This would include crew members who are undertrained or simply not qualified to be working on the vessel. Crewmembers that are incompetent at performing their duties, assault fellow seamen while using a weapon, or have vicious natures while intoxicated may expose the vessel owner to claims of unseaworthiness.

Damages for unseaworthiness may include medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.

If you are a seaman who has been injured by a defect in your vessel or by the actions of one of your fellow crew members, you may wish to discuss your case with an experienced offshore injury lawyer. Such an attorney can review the facts of your case and see if you may be able to pursue the vessel owner for damages for maintaining an unseaworthy vessel.


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