If a Seaman Can Prove an Unseaworthiness Case, He or She Is Entitled to Additional Damages
Unseaworthiness is a set of conditions covered under the Jones Act. Unseaworthiness usually refers to a dangerous or defective condition of the ship, or of the ship’s gear.
A ship’s owner has an absolute duty to furnish seamen with a safe and seaworthy vessel, including its gear and equipment. This duty is absolute and cannot be delegated to others. Furthermore, the vessel must be kept in a seaworthy condition for the entire voyage. Failure to do so may cause injury to seamen and result in unseaworthiness claims.
If a defective condition causes a seaman’s injury, the ship is considered unseaworthy, and the seaman has the right to seek damages for Unseaworthiness under the General Maritime Law.
Examples of unseaworthiness include:
- Lacking enough crew members
- Worn or missing non-skid on ladders and stairs
- Worn or missing grip tape on equipment
- Slippery decks
- Cluttered decks
- Worn-out equipment
- Outdated equipment
- Equipment that breaks during use
- Oily or greasy decks
- Improperly maintained equipment
- Lack of proper safety gear
- Unsafe work practices
- Inadequate training of crew
- Physical or sexual assault on crew members
Unseaworthy Ladders And Stairways
Ladders and stairways on a ship are for a seamen to climb up or climb down – not to slip or slide on. If the steps are smooth and slippery because there is grease or oil, or because they do not have an adequate non-skid surface they are considered to be an unseaworthy condition.
Ladders and stairways should provide the seamen with good footing, have solid hand holds and allow them to move about the vessel safely. However, stairways are heavy traffic areas and can become worn down, causing the non-skid tread to become ineffective. Sometimes non-skid surfaces such as diamond plate are painted over and over to the point that the non-skid is no longer effective.
Ladders can also be too steep to be considered safe, and are thus unseaworthy. The United States Coast Guard recently revised its standards for how steep engine room ladders are allowed to be, to make the work environment safer for the seamen. If a vessel has not been altered to meet these new standards, it is considered unseaworthy.
Unseaworthy Slipping Hazards
Decks that become unreasonably slippery when wet can also be considered an unseaworthy condition. Whether it’s caused by the absence of an adequate non-skid surface or merely the accumulation of grease, oil or ice on deck, a slippery deck is a potentially unseaworthy condition.
Unseaworthy Falling Hazards
Deck openings such as tank covers and hatches are a standard feature of any commercial vessel and can be found throughout the ship. Any open tank cover or hatch must be constantly attended or barraced. If a deck opening is not properly guarded or barricaded, seamen are vulnerable to serious and catastrophic falling injuries. An open and unguarded or unattended deck opening is a an unseaworthy condition.
Seamen are also vulnerable to serious falling injuries from platforms elevated above deck that do not have adequate guardrails, and from working on ladders and scaffolding without a fall arrest harness. Anytime a seaman is exposed to a fall from a height that can cause serious injury, there is likely an unseaworthy condition as a cause.
Equipment Failure: Parting Line
Small commercial vessels weigh hundreds of tons, and the big ones weigh over a hundred thousand tons. This means the lines holding vessels to the dock or a tug boat are under extreme pressure. If a mooring line or a towing line parts under strain it can cause the line to snap back with incredible force. When this happens, a seaman has no time to react.
By the time a seaman has heard the line snap, it’s too late. Parting lines are one of the most dangerous situations a seaman can face, and can result in catastrophic injury, including amputation and death.
When a line parts in the course of its intended use, the simple fact that the line failed to function properly is proof of unseaworthiness. There is no requirement to prove that the line was negligently handled or maintained. This is equally true for all equipment aboard the vessel. If it fails in ordinary or intended use and causes injury, it is unseaworthy.
If it can be shown that the line, or any other piece of equipment, was improperly maintained or was improperly used, an injured seamen would be entitled to file a claim for negligence against his or her employer. This is in addition to making a claim for unseaworthiness against the ship’s owner.
Contact the Seamen Injury Hotline About Unseaworthiness Claims
If a seaman can prove an unseaworthiness case, he or she is entitled to additional damages. Those damages include all of his lost wages, lost earning capacity, past and future medical expenses and even damages for pain and suffering.
Questions about Unseaworthiness claims? Call the Seamen Injury Hotline today at 888-732-6368, or complete our confidential form and we will follow up with you directly. We know the laws that protect every Jones Act Seaman and all maritime workers. We can help you understand your rights and how to protect them.