Maritime Law Firms

Personal Injury at Sea: Rights and Remedies of a Seaman

A seaman’s personal injuries claims under maritime law are more complex than other personal injury actions for damages.  All injuries on board a vessel are not dealt with by the same yardstick by the Admiralty courts.  Although, maritime law imposes a greater degree of care on a ship owner towards his crew, only negligence on the ship owner’s part entitles a seaman to receive compensation for those injuries.  Seamen, as wards of Admiralty courts, are afforded special protection from the hazards of life at sea as a matter of public policy.  The question therefore, is who is a seaman?  The Jones Act defines a seaman as every person who is employed or engaged to serve on board a vessel. 

Whenever a seaman gets injured while on board a ship, there are three kinds of legal remedies to which he or she can take recourse.  First, if a seaman becomes sick or injured in service of a vessel, he can file an action for maintenance and cure wherein a seaman seeks wages plus reimbursement for medicine, treatment, and other expenses relating to injury.  Second, a seaman can bring an unseaworthiness action, for injuries that resulted from ship owner’s breach of duty to provide a seaworthy vessel.  And third, a seaman can file a negligence action under the Jones Act.

Maintenance, in the traditional sense, meant food and quarters of the kind enjoyed by a seaman before the disability, and cure meant proper care if he remained on board.  In modern usage, “maintenance” of a seaman during the period of a ship owner’s liability means a seaman’s right to reimbursement for his actual costs for food and lodging comparable to those which he was entitled at sea, and “cure” is care, including nursing and medical attention, during that period.  In other words, if a seaman falls injured while on board a vessel, the ship owner should ensure that he is taken care of, and also must reimburse him for all the costs incurred by him during the time he is injured!

Unseaworthiness doctrine provides seaman protection from dangerous conditions beyond his control by shifting the risk to the ship owner.  The basic premise of this claim is that a ship owner has duty at commencement of the voyage to furnish his employees with a vessel that is seaworthy in itself, and also as respects its appurtenances and appliances.  A seaman can file an action for any injury caused to him due to its seaworthiness. 

The Jones Act provides an expansive remedy for seaman, and the policy behind that remedy mandates that even marginal claims are properly left for a jury’s determination.  Coverage under the Jones Act, like the jurisdiction of admiralty over claims for maintenance and cure, depends not on the place where the injury is inflicted but on the nature of the service and its relationship to the operation of the vessel plying in navigable waters.  Jones Act contains liberal causation requirement that entitles seaman to recover if negligence chargeable to employer played any part in producing seaman’s injury.  Jones Act does not overturn or eliminate pre-existing remedies available to seaman, it in fact, preserves common law causes action.  Put simply, any and all negligence claims of a seaman falls under the Jones Act.

Maritime law offers three modes of compensation to a seaman injured on a ship.  First, a seaman is entitled to proper cure and all expenses until seaman recovers under maintenance and cure.  Second, a seaman is entitled to damages for injuries caused to a seaman due to the unseaworthiness of the ship.  To top it all, the Jones Act, which provides a seaman an opportunity to seek damages for any and all claims of negligence.  

If injured at sea, contact GLP Attorneys for a free initial consultation. If you have a maritime injury case, please call 800.273.5005 or email our attorneys at attorneys@glpattorneys.com