The word “unseaworthiness” may conjure up images of an old boat with holes leaking in its hull, obviously unfit to leave port. However, in legal terms, the concept of unseaworthiness is much more subtle and covers more than just the structural seaworthiness of the vessel itself.
In maritime law, an unseaworthy vessel is defined as any fishing boat, cruise ship, yacht, barge, etc. with unsafe conditions on board. Unseaworthiness doesn’t mean that the ship is liable to sink as soon as it ventures into the open seas, and in fact this rarely happens. More often, an unseaworthy vessel is one that causes any injury to its crew or passengers, as the result of the negligence of the vessel’s owner or captain.
A long list of defects and oversights can classify a vessel as unseaworthy in the eyes of the law. A few examples of shipowner’s obligations include:
Unseaworthiness claims can also apply if a vessel isn’t properly outfitted for the task at hand:
Finally, a ship can be deemed unseaworthy if it isn’t properly crewed, or if the crew is insufficiently trained or equipped for their jobs. The lack of an adequate number of deck hands can expose passengers, and other crew members, to unnecessary risks, and an untrained or poorly trained crew can be equally dangerous both to themselves and to non-crew members. In addition, the captain is responsible for making sure that his crew is alert, sober and ready for action; an accident caused by an inebriated crew member can be sufficient grounds for a claim of unseaworthiness.
Unseaworthiness Claims vs. Jones Act
Unseaworthiness Claims are made against the owner of the vessel. Claims under the Jones Act are filed against a seaman’s employer.
Because “unseaworthiness” is so broadly defined, it’s important to hire a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of maritime law, including claims of Unseaworthiness and the Jones Act, which applies to compensation claims filed by marine workers. What seems like a simple, unavoidable accident to you may in fact have been the result of a negligently maintained ship, an improperly trained crew member, or a missing or damaged piece of equipment — any of which may entitle you to compensation under a claim of unseaworthiness.
Attorney Easley is an experienced maritime accident trial lawyer that has been represented injured seamen including longshoremen, shipyard workers, tugboat crewmen, dredge crewmen, pile drivers, marine construction workers, merchant seaman and tour boat/recreational boat crews and passengers.