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Seamen

The attorneys at Tobias, McCormick & Comer are Mobile maritime injury lawyers representing seamen who are injured in the course of their employment in maritime accidents. Anyone such as a deckhand, mate, or any other job that aids in the navigation of a vessel has important rights arising from their status as seamen. We are experienced maritime injury lawyers who have handled these types of cases for years.

A seaman who suffers injury or death in the service of a ship has three important remedies against his employer: (1) maintenance and cure; (2) a cause of action for unseaworthiness of the vessel; and (3) a cause of action for negligence under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688. All three remedies are unique to seamen, no other worker in our society can invoke such powerful relief in the event of an industrial accident. Call a maritime injury lawyer in Mobile, Alabama right away if you are an injured seaman to find out your best course of action.

In Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995) the Court set out a specific and succinct test of seamen status:

First, as we emphasized in Wilander, “an employee’s duties must contribute to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission. Second, … a seaman must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and nature.

115 S.Ct. at 1190.

A. The Jones Act

Congress enacted the Jones Act in 1920. In relevant part, the Jones Act provides:

Any seaman who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right of trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply…

46 U.S.C 688

The term vessel has been construed broadly to include every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water. 1 U.S.C. § 3. There are three common attributes of non-vessels; including: 1) the structure is primarily a platform, 2) the structure is moored or secured, and 3) any transportation function is merely incidental to the platform’s primary purpose. Daniel v. Ergon, Inc. 892 F. 2d 403, 407 (5th Cir. 1990).

The standard of care in a Jones Act case is “negligence,” which is properly defined as follows:

Negligence is the failure to exercise the degree of care which an ordinary prudent person would use under the circumstances in discharging the duty that he owes to those who work on a vessel. The ship owner has a continuing duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work and to use ordinary care to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition.

Clements v. Chotin Transp., Inc., 496 F. Supp. 163, 165 (M.D. 2a. 1980).

This standard of care reflects the basic duty of the ship owner/employer: the duty to provide the seamen with a safe place to work. This duty requires reasonable care under the circumstances. Ober v. Penrod Drilling, 694 F. 2d. 68 (5th Cir. 1982).

The standard of causation in a Jones Act case is unique. The plaintiff may recover if, under the facts, the negligence of the defendant played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury or death for which damages are sought. Thus, the burden on the plaintiff to prove causation is “very slight,” or “feather weight.” As a practical matter, this means that a “jury is entitled to make permissible inferences from unexplained events.” Martin v. John W. Stone Oil Distr., 819 F. 2d 547, 549 (5th Cir. 1987).

B. Unseaworthiness

In order to state a cause of action for unseaworthiness a plaintiff must allege his injury was caused by a defective condition of the ship, its equipment or appurtenances. Negligence is not a factor and the unseaworthiness remedy is often referred to as strict liability. The warranty extends to the hull of a ship, the ship’s cargo handling machinery, hand tools aboard the ship, ropes and tackle, and all kinds of equipment either belonging to the ship or brought aboard by stevedores. It also includes the ship’s stores – provisions of food, water, furniture, apparel – on board for the crew’s consumption or use, as well as the material in which ships’ stores are wrapped. Cargo itself is not within the warranty, but the method of cargo storage and the cargo containers and packaging are covered. Members of the crew of a vessel are also warranted as seaworthy, and there may be liability for crew assaults, brutality, negligent orders, or for utilizing an understaffed or ill-trained crew. A ship may also be unseaworthy if it lacks certain types of equipment or if it conducts operations in overly rough seas. The issue of whether a vessel is unseaworthy is a question of fact to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Causation requires proximate cause.

C. Maintenance and Cure

The maintenance and cure obligation is ancient. Maintenance is the right of a seaman to food and lodging if he falls ill or becomes injured while in the service of the ship. Cure is the right to necessary medical services. Both extend to the point of maximum recovery.

If you are a seaman who has sustained a personal injury, call the Mobile maritime injury lawyers of Tobias, McCormick & Comer for a free consultation. We serve Mobile and the Gulf Coast areas, including Daphne, Spanish Fort, Fairhope, Foley, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Saraland, and Satsuma.

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