What is the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness?

Boat in the ocean

Maritime law also referred to as admiralty law, is made up of statutes and case law governing legal disputes originating on navigable waters. “Navigable waters” include all bodies of water that are capable of being used for interstate or foreign commerce. Rivers that flow into the ocean or cross state lines come within maritime jurisdiction.

Personal injury cases that are governed by maritime law have specialized rules and raise unique issues. That is why, if you have a case governed by maritime law, you need an attorney who specializes in this area of law.

One of the unique areas of maritime law we will look at briefly today is the doctrine of “unseaworthiness.”

What is the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness?

When a sailor (“seaman”) is injured, there are generally three main causes of action available to him (or her) to compensate him for his injuries:

  • Maintenance and Cure,
  • The Jones Act, or
  • The Doctrine of unseaworthiness.

(Please note that longshoremen, harbor workers or those who work “near” the water but not “on” it, like dockworkers or those working in shipping terminals or shipyards, are governed by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), not the Jones Act which we are discussing in today’s post.)

Very briefly, maintenance and cure is a sailor’s right to be provided a daily living allowance while he is recovering from an injury or illness. Seamen are entitled to maintenance and cure whether or not their illness or injury was caused by their employer or a fellow crewmember.

The Jones Act, which is a federal statute, allows an injured seaman (which has a specific legal meaning) to sue his employer if his injury was the result of the vessel owner’s negligence or the negligence of the crew.

If the vessel aboard which the seaman was injures was not seaworthy, and this unseaworthiness caused or contributed to the seaman’s injury, then he may recover under the “doctrine of unseaworthiness.”  The doctrine of unseaworthiness states that a shipowner has a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel and to maintain its seaworthiness.

The doctrine is rooted in the concept that the owner of a vessel has an absolute duty to provide seamen with a ship that is seaworthy. This means that the owner must keep the vessel in good working order and must update or replace any aspect of the ship that could cause injuries. The failure to do so makes the owner strictly liable for the expenses of any sailor injured because of it.

Like most of maritime law, the unseaworthiness doctrine has specific legal meanings and requirements and is far more complicated than can be discussed in a simple post. So if you have been injured while working at sea, contact a maritime attorney.

Get the Compensation You Deserve

At the Day Law Group, we handle maritime cases including Jones Act cases and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) cases.  We offer FREE consultations. We have offices in Baton Rouge, and we serve Baker, Denham, Gonzales, Port Allen, Prairieville, New Orleans, and Zachary. Call (225) 465-1232 ToDay to schedule your free consultation or contact us here.

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