Unseaworthiness Conditions of a Ship
Most seamen are well aware of the perils presented while at sea, and are more than willing to confront such dangers. However, such perils and dangers are unnecessarily heightened when the ship-owner fails to properly maintain and keep the ship in a seaworthy condition. In addition to a lawsuit for negligence that a seaman may bring under the Jones Act against his or her employer, seamen are also eligible to bring an old common-law lawsuit for unseaworthiness if a seaman’s injuries are caused by a condition on the ship. Ship-owners and operators, who may not necessarily be the seaman’s employer, owe seamen who work on their ships a duty to make sure that the seamen have a reasonably safe place to live and work.
As seamen are required to spend a substantial amount of time onboard the ship while working, this responsibility of the ship-owner to provide a seaworthy ship also extends to the rest and bed areas, bathrooms, and kitchen area. If the ship is found to not be fit for its intended use then the ship-owner and operator may be strictly liable for a seaman’s damages. This means that at a trial an injured seaman is not required to prove any sort of negligence or failure to exercise care on the part of their employer. All that needs to be established is that the unsafe condition played a part in causing or contributed to the seaman’s injuries.
It may surprise some to know that unseaworthy conditions include such things as improperly maintained ships, defective nonskid on stairs and deck areas, improperly stalled equipment, failing to provide safe equipment to the crew, improper designs that present hazards to the crew, missing or rusty railing, poor lighting, and unsafe work practices. Indeed, a ship-owner is liable under the unseaworthiness doctrine for not properly training the crew, not properly enough crew members on the ship, and for employing unqualified crewmembers. In Rigdon Marine Corp. v. Roberts an East Texas court found that the ship-owner had breached its non-delegable duty to provide a competent crew when a captain had been viciously assaulted onboard a ship. It is also important to note, that even though a knife was not actually used in the assault, the mere fact that a knife was present during it elevated the assault from an “ordinary assault or sailors’ brawl” to one that would breach the owner’s absolute duty to provide a seaworthy ship.
The responsibility to ensure that a ship is seaworthy also extends to the crewmembers that are assigned to a ship. If a crewmember assigned to a ship is incompetent at performing his or her duties, assaults a fellow seaman while using a weapon, or has a vicious nature when they are intoxicated, then the ship owner or operator may be strictly liable for the damages the unseaworthy crewmember causes to another. However, if the crewmember is only negligent in performing his job, or does not meet one of the requirements mentioned above, then an injured seaman will have to prove regular Jones Act negligence to receive a recovery for his or her injuries.
If you are a seaman stationed out of the Galveston, Houston, or other Texas port who was injured by a condition on your ship or viciously assaulted by a fellow crewmember our team of maritime attorneys can investigate and determine whether you may have a claim for unseaworthiness against the ship-owner or operator. Please feel free to reach us at 1.800.862.1260 or email us to set up a no-obligation consultation to discuss with you the best course of action.
If you or a loved one was injured anywhere on The Gulf Coast, Call our Law Firm with offices in Beaumont, Galveston, Houston, Victoria, Rockport, Corpus Christi, the Valley or San Antonio we are here to help…