The procedures governing maritime lawsuit cases are complex and varied, so most cases will require the help of a legal professional experienced in the field. In the early years of the U.S., seaborne commerce was a primary means of transport and business, so the nation developed a unique set of regulations to foster its growth. More than 200 years later, most of these regulations have been altered, but maritime cases are still unique in some ways.
WHAT MAKES MARITIME LAWSUIT PROCEEDINGS DIFFERENT?
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, gives qualified seamen extra rights when considering legal action against a vessel owner. A qualified seaman is any worker who spends at least 30 percent of their time on a navigating vessel, a standard established in prior cases. Workers who qualify under this standard may file a claim against an employer due to negligence on behalf of the vessel owner, the vessel’s operator, or by other crew members. The Jones Act also permits qualified seamen to make claims against vessel owners due to negligence or unseaworthiness. When pursuing these claims, qualified seamen are entitled to a trial by jury, an arrangement not usually afforded to most victims of negligence.
Common international legal regulations do not offer these rights to seamen, making the Jones Act one of the most empowering legal statutes in the country.
Vessel owners must also provide “maintenance and cure” to any seamen injured while working on their ships. While convalescing, “maintenance” refers to room, board and basic living expenditures. “Cure” refers to any medical devices or medications required to aid the seaman in recovery. Vessel owners that do not provide maintenance and cure to injured workers may be responsible for negligence. However, maintenance and cure typically ends once a worker is transferred to a medical facility or when the worker has reached the reasonable limit of their recovery.
Many maritime lawsuit claims involve injured passengers, and here ship owners also have special responsibilities. When taking on passengers, ship owners have a duty to provide reasonable care for them. This means the owner must take all reasonable measures to ensure the passenger’s safety. In broad terms, this typically means keeping the vessel in good condition and manning it with competent crew. If either of these duties go unmet, the owner may be responsible for any injuries.
There are some particular cases that absolve vessel owners of responsibility, making these cases even more contentious. Vessel owners are not usually responsible for injuries caused by:
- Inherent seaborne dangers or unusually dangerous weather
- Defects in carried cargo that result in additional risks
- Public enemies
- Attempts to rescue lives or property while at sea
Defendants will often point to these exceptions to avoid responsibility for their negligence, so many victims consider hiring a knowledgeable injury attorney for their case.