Maritime Claims

Seamen and Longshoremen Legal Rights

Ships can be dangerous for crew members and other maritime workers. Machinery, including cranes and other loading equipment, may be in poor condition. Spills, fires, water accumulation, and cargo overload can also cause accidents.

If you have been injured while employed at sea, or while loading or unloading a ship's cargo, or if you develop an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may have a claim for benefits or damages. If you are a family member of a seaman who died at sea, you may also have a claim. This article provides a brief overview of maritime law to give you an idea of your legal rights.

Injuries to Seamen: Federal Statutes

A seaman is a member of the ship's crew. He or she may be responsible for chores such as handling lines, caring for lights or equipment, or steering.

The federal Jones Act applies to seamen who are injured on the job, providing wages until the end of the voyage and medical care. The Act also covers the costs of lodging and food while the seaman is ashore for treatment of the injury.

If a seaman dies because of a work injury, the family may file a wrongful death claim under the Jones Act. The surviving spouse and children are the first beneficiaries. If the deceased seaman has no living spouse or children, the award goes to the seaman's parents.

The seaman's family may also recover money damages under the Death on the High Seas Act. The Act applies to a wrongful death that takes place more than three miles from shore of a state, the District of Columbia, or United States territories.

Federal maritime statutes are not the only source of benefits available to injured seamen. A seaman may file a claim against the shipowner under general maritime law stating that the ship was unseaworthy.

Help for Injured Longshoremen

Longshoremen are workers who load and unload the ship's cargo and are employed by a private stevedoring company rather than by the ship's owners. The Jones Act generally does not apply to them. Instead, longshoremen are covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which provides workers' compensation benefits for maritime deaths or injuries. The claim is the longshoreman's exclusive remedy against his employer. The injured longshoreman may receive money damages even if the employer was not at fault.

The longshoreman may also sue the shipowner for negligence in some cases. The shipowner has a duty concerning the condition of the ship's equipment, tools and work space, and must warn the stevedore of any dangers. If the shipowner fails to warn the stevedore of any problems, the shipowner becomes liable for any injury to the longshoreman ( Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos (1981) 451 US 156, 68 L.Ed 2d 1, 101S Ct 1614).

General Maritime Law

In some instances, family members of deceased maritime workers may make wrongful death claims based on negligence and general maritime law, rather than on specific federal Acts. In a leading US Supreme Court case, the court allowed the mother of a man who died while working on a ship berthed in navigable waters to file a wrongful death claim against the shipbuilder ( Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drywall Corp. v. Garris, 121 S. Ct. 1927 (2001) ). The deceased worker was not covered by the Jones Act because he was not a seaman. He was not covered by the Death on the High Seas Act because he was killed in state territorial waters within the three mile limit.

Maritime Claims Present Complex Issues

Maritime claims present complex issues and fact patterns. Sometimes, just clarifying the relationship between the parties and the details about an accident can be a daunting task. Even determining whether an individual is a seaman or a longshoreman is not always clearcut. Therefore, finding an attorney with experience specifically in maritime law is essential.

Brayton Purcell LLP has handled numerous maritime claims involving death and personal injury as well as those based on exposure to asbestos aboard ships and in shipyards. Please feel free to contact Brayton Purcell LLP today to learn about your legal options if you or a family member has sustained a maritime injury.