In maritime law, an unseaworthy vessel refers to any fishing boat, barge, yacht, and cruise ship that has unsafe conditions. That does not mean that the ship will be likely to sink as soon as it ventures into the open seas; in fact, this rarely happens. Instead, an unseaworthy vessel could cause injuries to its crew or passengers due to the vessel’s owner or captain’s negligence.
According to Miami-based maritime lawyers, an unseaworthiness claim, such as a negligence lawsuit under the Jones Act, provides a method for injured seamen to receive compensation for their injuries.
However, finding the liable parties to sue for your losses can be challenging. The Jones Act, the laws governing unseaworthiness claims, and other maritime actions can be challenging to sort through without having a skilled maritime injury attorney to advocate on your behalf.
What Makes A Vessel Unseaworthy?
Various factors can make a vessel unseaworthy, but some of the most common conditions include the following:
- Uneven, slippery, or oily floors
- Defective or insufficient equipment and tools
- Broken or dangerous stairs, ladders, or handrails
- Faulty vessel design
- Lack of appropriate safety procedures and rules
- Incompetent or improperly trained crew members
- Broken, workout, or outdated equipment
- Improper or missing safety measures or equipment
- Dangerous crew members on the vessel
- Use of incompetent or dangerous third-party contractors or sub-contractors
Almost any issue about the ship, equipment, or personnel might support an unseaworthiness claim if it leads to an injury or illness. As an injured seaman, you can bring an unseaworthiness claim against your employer if they own and operate the ship or chartered it. However, if your employer does not own or operate the ship, you can still bring a claim against the vessel’s operator or owner.
It is vital to comprehend that under the doctrine of unseaworthiness, the vessel’s owner, not your employer, must provide a seaworthy crew and ship. In some cases, the employer and ship owner may be the same, but there are many situations where they are separate entities or companies. In such cases, if you were injured while in the service of a ship, you could sue both your employer and the owner under different laws and legal theories.
But to make an unseaworthiness claim, you first must prove that the vessel was not in compliance with the guarantee of seaworthiness when your injury occurred. However, figuring out the correct parties to sue for your losses might take time.
What Makes an Employer or Other Party Accountable for Unseaworthy Conditions?
Various conditions can give rise to unseaworthiness claims, including failure to:
- Properly repair broken equipment
- Provide sufficient equipment to do the job safely
- Keep decks clear of debris, spills, or other hazards
- Adequately maintain equipment
- Provide warning signs for dangerous conditions or stairs, ladders, and handrails for safe movement
- Properly train and supervise crew members
- Provide the right amount of life-saving gear or an insufficient number of crew members to perform the job
Because the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness relies on strict liability, you do not have to prove negligence or show that the owner knew about the hazard that caused your injuries. Instead, you must demonstrate that there was an unseaworthy condition and it caused your injuries.
Do I Need a Maritime Attorney to Handle My Unseaworthiness Claim?
Everyone cannot clearly understand admiralty and maritime laws. While you can handle an unseaworthiness claim on your own, it is always best to discuss your case with a maritime lawyer who can discuss your legal options. Moreover, a lawyer will review your case to identify all the parties that can be held legally liable for your injuries.
You must be aware that under the Uniform Statute of Limitations for Maritime Torts, Jones Act injury claims and unseaworthiness claims are subject to a three-year statute of limitations. That means that you have up to three years from the date of your accident to file your unseaworthiness claim.
You must be careful as to whether your injury facts give rise to your being classified as a Jones Act seaman or whether the structure is considered a vessel under the General Maritime Laws or the Jones Act. Furthermore, beware that some claims can have a filing or notice deadline as short as one year from the date of your accident.
Therefore, speaking with a maritime attorney about your accident and injuries is best to ensure you take all the actions needed to protect your legal rights.