The maritime industry is of critical importance to Louisiana and the Gulf South, supporting thousands of jobs and providing businesses access to markets the globe. Admiralty and maritime law is a unique legal field that covers activities that occur on or adjacent to navigable waters including the high seas, rivers, and lakes that can be used for interstate and international commerce. Due to the complexity of maritime law, it is critically important that you have a well-versed maritime attorney fighting to ensure that you recover all that you are entitled to under the law.
Under the general maritime law, a vessel owner has an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel, ensuring that all parts of a vessel and its appurtenances are reasonably free of defects. When a seaman is injured as the result of an unseaworthy condition, the vessel and its operator are strictly liable to the seaman for all resulting damages.
The seaman must show that the unseaworthy condition was a substantial factor in his or her injury. Vessel equipment or appliances are unseaworthy when they are not fit for its “ordinary and intended” use. A vessel may also be unseaworthy if insufficient crew is assigned to perform a task safely or if the vessel is engaged in an unsafe method of operation.
Maintenance and Cure:
Seamen injured on the job are entitled to maintenance and cure until they reach maximum medical improvement. Maintenance is a seaman’s day-to-day living expenses. Cure is the seaman’s medical costs. Under this legal doctrine, seamen are normally entitled to select their physician and their employer cannot deny medical treatment that is reasonable and necessary to improve their condition. In certain instances, punitive damages may be recovered against employers that unreasonably deny maintenance and cure.
The Jones Act is a federal law that gives seamen who were injured in the course of their employment the right to sue their employer for negligence damages. Under the Jones Act, a maritime employer must provide the seaman with a reasonably safe place to work and must use ordinary care to under the circumstances to maintain and keep the vessel on which the seaman works in a reasonably safe condition.
Courts often find that a maritime employer has a heightened duty to provide a safe place to work, making it easier to establish liability in a Jones Act claim. Unlike the workers’ compensation benefits available to most injured workers, Jones Act seamen can recover a full range of damages aimed at making them whole for their injuries, including maintenance and cure, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses, and general damages for pain and suffering. However, these remedies are limited to individuals who qualify for “seaman status.”
An injured worker must have (1) a substantial connection to a vessel or fleet of vessels, and (2) contributed to the function of the vessel. Seaman status does not hinge on the worker spending the majority of his time physically on a vessel. To the contrary, an injured worker may qualify for seaman status if he spends a portion of his total work time on a vessel (including blue water ships, bulk carriers, barges, tankers, supply boats, crew boats, semi-submersibles, jack-up drilling platforms, lift-boats and other structures capable of transportation on the water).
In addition, it is not necessary for the worker to assist with the transportation or navigational function of the vessel. Seaman status has been granted to a wide variety of workers including paint foremen, roustabouts working on an oil rig, hairdressers on cruise ships, and entertainers.
Death on the High Seas Act:
When a passenger or worker is killed by negligence or wrongful acts aboard a vessel more than three nautical miles away from U.S. shores, compensation for families is covered by the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). This law permits a spouse, children, parent, or dependent family member to recover damages including funeral expenses, loss of financial support, loss of inheritance, and loss of household services.
The DOHSA also permits a wrongful death action for aviation accidents that occur more than 12 miles away from the U.S. shore.