The Jones Act is a federal law that provides legal remedies to seamen who were injured during the course of their employment. Under the statute, maritime employers have a legal responsibility to provide seamen a safe, secure place to work. If a company or organization fails to do so, it can be held liable for any injuries caused by their negligence.
The legal doctrine of unseaworthiness is a separate cause of action from a Jones Act claim. A maritime employer may be held strictly liable for injuries or fatalities caused by an unseaworthy vessel. Here, our Southeast Texas maritime lawyers discuss the key things to know about the doctrine of unseaworthiness.
A Seaworthy Vessel: An Absolute Duty Under Federal Law
Federal maritime regulations impose an absolute duty of seaworthiness on vessel owners and operators. That is to say that they must provide a seaworthy vessel to crewmembers and other passengers. Failure to do so is a violation of federal maritime regulations and strict liability is imposed.
Vessel Owners and Operators are Strictly Liable for Unseaworthiness
Jones Act claims are negligence claims. A seaman injured in the course and scope of their work can hold an employer liable for any injuries caused by negligence. The Jones Act defines negligence as the failure to take proper care. In contrast, unseaworthiness claims are strict liability claims. In this sense, an unseaworthiness lawsuit is similar to a product liability lawsuit. A vessel owner or operator is liable for any harm caused by an unseaworthy vessel—even if there is no evidence of negligence.
How is Unseaworthiness Defined?
While federal maritime law is clear that vessel owners and operators have a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel, the term is not always easy to define. It is important to emphasize that ‘unseaworthiness’ does not mean that a vessel is wholly incapable of sailing. Quite the contrary, the meaning is expansive. It simply means that conditions on the ship itself are not appropriately safe for crewmembers/passengers. Some examples of unseaworthiness include:
- Inadequate staffing or training;
- Dangerous or defective conditions on the ship;
- Uninspected or unrepaired mechanical problems;
- Violation of federal safety regulations;
- Slippery or otherwise unsafe condition on the decks or stairs; and
- Lack of adequate life saving equipment.
Ultimately, every maritime accident requires a comprehensive investigation. An attorney can help you gather and assemble the evidence to prove unseaworthiness or a Jones Act violation. With a well-supported case, an injured seaman will be in the best position to recover full and fair financial compensation for their injuries.
Get Help From a Maritime Lawyer in Houston
At the Kolodny Law Firm, our Texas Jones Act attorneys have the skills, expertise, and experience on which you and your family can rely. If you have any questions about unseaworthiness under the Jones Act, we are here to get you reliable answers. Contact our law firm today for a free, completely confidential case evaluation. With a legal office in Houston, we handle maritime injury claims throughout the Gulf region.