The LeadersIn Maritime Law

Claims of Unseaworthiness

In some situations, an offshore injury will stem not from the actions of an employer or co-worker, but from the conditions of the vessel itself. Ship owners have a legal obligation to provide employees and passengers with a vessel reasonably fit for its intended purpose. When that does not occur, it can result in what is known as a claim of unseaworthiness, which is filed in addition to a Jones Act claim. This type of claim requires a vessel with a defective condition, which could be equipment that is not properly repaired or an unsafe condition in general (ex: having too few crewmembers aboard the ship). If you believe that you could have the rights to pursue a claim of unseaworthiness, do not hesitate to contact an experienced Jones Act attorney from Arnold & Itkin.

A Closer Look at the Term "Unseaworthiness"

Unseaworthiness is a word used to describe a situation where an employer did not provide their employee with a vessel that met safety and living standards. Understanding the doctrine of unseaworthiness is a crucial factor when addressing the topic of maritime law. The idea behind this term encompasses the primary concern that any and all seamen have the right to be on a vessel deemed safe or "fit" for use.

These claims are slightly different than a typical Jones Act claim. A claim for unseaworthiness does not require the injured worker to prove negligence. Even if a separate Jones Act claim is filed, injured workers can still pursue an unseaworthiness claim as well. Those who spend at least 30 percent of their working hours on a vessel offshore are considered Jones Act workers and can consequently file an unseaworthiness claim if they are injured.

"Unseaworthiness" encompasses much more than just a ship's physical condition, such as a hole in the hull. Many factors aboard a ship or towed oil platform can constitute unseaworthiness.

They include the following:

  • Malfunctioning or poorly maintained machinery and equipment;
  • An inadequate number of crew members;
  • Lack of appropriate safety rails or guards on equipment and machinery;
  • Lack of fire extinguishers or fire suppression equipment;
  • Rusty hatches or doors with failed seals;
  • Lack of proper hoists or elevators;
  • Lack of proper safety equipment, including life rafts and life jackets;
  • Untrained or incompetent crew or captain;
  • Lack of safe living areas;
  • Lack of sufficient food;
  • Improperly stowed cargo; and
  • Steep steps aboard ship.

Who Is Liable for a Claim of Unseaworthiness?

The owner is responsible for upholding the strict standards of a vessel in order to provide an environment that is reasonable for the seaman. It is the "absolute duty" of the vessel's owner that all aspects of the vessel and the ongoing operations meet the safety requirements; this obligation falls to no one else. Substandard care of a vessel is unacceptable. If a vessel is not fit to safely perform its intended duties and a worker was injured as a result, then they may file an unseaworthiness claim against their employer.

Generally speaking, a seaworthy vessel must meet the following conditions:

  • Must be in a reasonably fit condition
  • Must have safe, functioning tools, and equipment
  • Must have safe work conditions for employees
  • Must provide sufficient safety devices
  • Must have enough properly trained crewmembers

It is important to recognize that unseaworthiness claims generally do not include accidents that involve a seaman's own negligence. For example, if a seaman gets drunk and then tumbles down slippery stairs, an unseaworthiness claim may not be supported. There are many factors that may support a claim of unseaworthiness, which is always brought against the vessel owner as opposed to a maritime employer (in some cases, they may be one in the same). The effect of an unseaworthiness claim is to draw a vessel owner into a lawsuit as a potential source of recovery.

Contact an Experienced Offshore Injury Lawyer

As an injured worker, you may be able to bring a claim against your employer if the employer was the owner or operator of the vessel. However, in many cases, the vessel will be owned by a third party. In that case, the unseaworthiness claim would need to be brought against them, making it a more complex process. Turn to Arnold & Itkin, an award-winning offshore firm that has recovered billions of dollars in verdicts and settlements.

At Arnold & Itkin LLP, we hold vessel owners accountable when offshore accidents caused by negligence result in fatalities. If you have been injured while working on a ship or vessel, please contact the experienced maritime lawyers at our firm. Our understanding of the Jones Act and all maritime laws enables us to accurately determine what compensation an injured seaman may be entitled to. We then fight for maximum damages.

To get started, contact an offshore injury lawyer today.

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