Under the Jones Act, an injured seaman may recover directly from a vessel owner if their injuries were caused by the negligence of the vessel owner or the vessel’s crew. Under the doctrine of unseaworthiness, a vessel owner has an absolute duty to provide a seaman with a “seaworthy” vessel, which includes the vessel’s appurtenances. The appurtenances must be suitable for their intended use. More specifically, anything that is connected to or used in conjunction with the operation of the ship, must be in good and working order.
The term “unseaworthy” is very broad and includes many different aspects of a vessel’s functionality. This includes everything from its appurtenances to the vessel’s crew. If a vessel is manned by a scant or untrained crew, this can also constitute an unseaworthy condition. Examples of unseaworthy conditions are as follows:
• Faulty lines and ropes;
• Slippery deck;
• Untrained crew members;
• Exhausted crew members;
• Inadequate equipment (old, worn out, defective, etc.); and,
• The absence of safety procedures.
This is merely a short list of the items that could qualify as an unseaworthy condition. As stated above, the doctrine of unseaworthiness is very broad and many different conditions could qualify as such a condition.
Once an injured seaman proves that their injury was caused by an unseaworthy condition, they are entitled to compensation. We will be exploring the different damage categories available pursuant to unseaworthy claims in later articles.
While the Jones Act and the doctrine of unseaworthiness overlap, there are some distinct differences between the two. First, to prevail on a negligence claim under the Jones Act, the injured seaman must prove some negligence on the part of the vessel owner, whereas under the doctrine of unseaworthiness, the injured seaman must only prove that the condition existed and played a substantial part in bringing about the injury. Second, and we will dive deeper into this in another article, there are some additional remedies available under the doctrine of unseaworthiness that aren’t available under the Jones Act. Finally, an injured seaman is entitled to a jury trial under the Jones Act whereas there is no such entitlement under the doctrine of unseaworthiness. As such, many injured seaman bring both a Jones Act and unseaworthiness claim in the same suit.
I hope this provides at least a somewhat informative introduction into the doctrine of unseaworthiness. Much likes its cousin maintenance and cure, the doctrine of unseaworthiness has been around a long time and has many nuances which we will explore as the site continues to grow and develop. I want to thank everyone who has checked out the site and the social media pages/channels. As always, if anyone has any questions or comments regarding this or any other article, please do not hesitate to reach out.