Recently, attorney Lee J. Bloomfield, presented a seminar entitled: "Don't Miss the Boat: Basics of Maritime Personal Injury Law in 45 Minutes"
From the seminar papers, we are producing a blog series. This is the 4th blog post of this series. This post discusses the Jones Act and Unseaworthiness.
In addition to being able to bring a negligence claim under the Jones Act, a seaman is also protected under the general maritime law Doctrine of Unseaworthiness. Under this Doctrine, a vessel owner owes a nondelegable duty to a seaman to furnish a vessel that is reasonably safe and fit for its intended purpose. Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc., 362 U.S. 539 (1960). This duty is absolute and independent of the duty under the Jones Act to exercise reasonable care. Johnson v. Offshore Exp., Inc., 845 F.2d 1347, 1354 (5th Cir. 1988). Liability under the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness is not dependent upon a showing of negligence or fault. Liability for an unseaworthy vessel is, therefore, a form of strict liability. Seas Shipping Co. v., 328 U.S. 85 (1946). Sieracki 328 U.S. 85 (1946).
There are numerous examples of what can constitute an actionable unseaworthy condition. For example, an unsafe method of work may be an unseaworthy condition. Rogers v., 764 F.2d 300, 303 (5th Cir. 1985). Not having an adequate Eagle Offshore Drilling Serv., Inc. crew which results in fatigue of crewmembers may qualify as unseaworthiness. Andrews v., 457 F.2d 636 (3rd Cir. 1972). Not having sufficient crew members to Chemical Carriers, Inc. perform heavy lifting can also constitute unseaworthiness. Waldron v. Moore-McCormack, 386 U.S. 724 (1967). Lines, Inc.
Unreasonably slippery decks or ladders, or obstructions left on deck may amount to an unseaworthy condition. Spinks v. Chevron Oil Co., 507 F.2d 216 (5th Cir. 1975); see also,, 3 F.3d 437 (5th Cir. 1993); Barlas v. U.S., 279 F.Supp. 2d 201 Billedeaux v. Tidex, Inc. (S.D.N.Y. 2003). Even a temporary or unforeseeable failure of a piece of vessel equipment under proper and expected use is sufficient to establish unseaworthiness, provided that the unseaworthy condition was the proximate cause of the harm suffered by the plaintiff. Perkins v. Am. Elec. Power Fuel Supply, Inc., 246 F.3d 593 (6th Cir. 2001).
Complying with industry customs and practices will not discharge the duty to provide a seaworthy vessel. Smith v. Ithaca Corp., 612 F.2d 215 (5th Cir. 1980); see also, June T. v. King, 290 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1961).
Since an unseaworthiness claim arises under the general maritime law, the three (3) year statute of limitations provided by the Uniform Status of Limitations for Maritime Torts, 46 U.S.C. Sec. 30106, applies to these claims.