What is the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness?
The Doctrine of Unseaworthiness stems from the premise that shipowners have an absolute duty to provide and maintain seaworthy vessels for seamen. It allows seamen who have been injured due to a ship’s unseaworthiness to recover damages from shipowners by filing an unseaworthiness claim. Such claims are filed under general maritime law, and therefore differ from state Workers’ Compensation claims or Jones Act negligence claims in several ways.
What Makes a Ship Unseaworthy?
A seaworthy vessel is one in which all parts and equipment are reasonably fit for their intended purpose and is operated by a crew reasonably adequate and competent for the work assigned. Shipowners may not delegate their duty to provide a seaworthy vessel to anyone else and must ensure that the ship has adequate safety equipment. They must always maintain the seaworthiness of the vessel; equipment that fails under proper and expected use may be enough to establish unseaworthiness.
To uphold their duty under the doctrine of unseaworthiness, vessel owners must also ensure that the crew members are reasonably adequate and competent to perform the work assigned. A vessel may be unseaworthy if its owner did not adequately train the crew, perform criminal background checks, or hire enough crew members to run the ship.
Elements of an Unseaworthiness Claim
Unseaworthiness claims do not hinge upon negligence like Jones Act claims. Whereas the Jones Act allows seamen to recover for injuries caused by shipowner or crew member negligence, the unseaworthiness doctrine allows seamen to recover for injuries caused by the ship’s unseaworthiness, regardless of whether the shipowner was negligent or even knew about the unseaworthy condition.
To prevail on an unseaworthiness claim, a plaintiff must prove that:
- There was a seaman
- The vessel was unseaworthy
- The unseaworthy condition caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injury or damage
Plaintiffs may establish causation by showing that the unseaworthy condition was a substantial factor in causing their injury. They do not need to show that the shipowner was negligent or that the unseaworthy condition was the sole cause of their injury; plaintiffs are entitled to recover if it was a substantial factor in bringing about their injury or damage.
Damages Available Under the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness
Once it has been established that a plaintiff is entitled to recover under the unseaworthiness doctrine, it must be determined whether the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries or damages. If a plaintiff’s negligence was a cause of their injury or damage, the damage award will be reduced by what the jury determines to be the plaintiff’s percentage of fault.
Plaintiffs may recover all damages available under general maritime law, including:
- Lost wages
- Loss of future income
- Medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of financial support
Cape May Maritime Accident Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Represent Maritime Workers in Unseaworthiness Claims
For assistance with your unseaworthiness claim, contact a Cape May maritime accident lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania. For a free consultation, complete our online contact form or call us at 888-999-1962 today.