Accidents happen. When they do, laws are in place to provide coverage to the injured party, provided that the injured party satisfies the legal criteria of the injury and where it took place. The same is applicable for those who work in the maritime industry. Over the years, Congress legislated to provide certain protections to those injured as a result of a maritime accident, notably through the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the “Jones Act” for Washington State Congressman Wesley Livsey Jones.
When an accident occurs, the law divides the injured party’s status into one of three categories:
- Seamen are persons employed as permanent members of the vessel’s crew.
- Non-seaman maritime workers are persons who are on the vessel as part of their employment, but who are not members of the vessel’s crew.
- Non-seaman, non-maritime workers, are “none of the above”—these persons include passengers, visitors, guests, and all others.
This paper discusses the definition of seamen.
The law provides special protections to Jones Act Seamen. While often glaringly obvious, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether a person who suffered a maritime injury is actually a seaman. In the case of Chandris v. Latsis from 1995, Latsis worked as an engineer for a shipping company. Aboard a ship, Latsis developed an eye injury that went untreated by the ship’s doctor. Latsis sued the shipping company, claiming he was a seaman under the Jones Act, for negligence due to the doctor’s mishandling of his eye condition.
The Supreme Court noted that the rule is that the person inured has duties that “aid in the navigation” of the ship. The Supreme Court stated that this rule does not require that the person actually steers the ship; instead, the person must be involved in the ship’s mission. As such, a steward or stewardess aboard a passenger ship can be considered a seaman.
In determining the definition of seaman, the Supreme Court applied a two prong test:
- A seaman contributes to the functionality of the ship;
- The seaman has a connection to the “ship in navigation.”
The determination of a seaman would then be fact-specific and depend on the circumstances. As mentioned, the first prong is likely easily satisfied because it applies to just about every job on the ship. If someone is a stowaway on the ship then that person is not a seaman; however, a steward or an engineer or anyone else hired to work the ship would likely pass the first prong.
The bigger question is the connection to the ship in navigation. The crew that works the ship and was specifically hired by the shipping company is easily considered seamen. A pilot who is brought on to navigate difficult waters, though highly-skilled and sought after, would be a visiting expert and not connected to the specific ship in navigation. As mentioned, it is all fact-specific.
Have you suffered an injury as a result of a maritime accident? Contact the Kolodny law firm.