Emotional Distress Claims and Maritime Law

JANUARY 31, 2011 by Bill Abbott

Maritime workers who are negligently subjected to emotional harm by their employers or another shipping company may have a claim for compensation under the theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress. Emotional distress may occur if you witness an accident, death or other disturbing event that causes you to require psychiatric help or prevents you from working.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a claim in favor of a maritime worker in the case Stacy v. Rederiet Otto Danielson. In that case, a maritime worker named Brian Stacy was operating a fishing vessel that he owned off the coast of California. A freighter, owned by Rederiet Otto Danielson, was headed toward Stacy’s vessel. Stacy sent out a danger signal to the freighter and it was able to closely navigate around Stacy’s vessel. Unfortunately, the freighter collided and destroyed another fishing boat, killing the captain of the ship.

Stacy contacted a maritime lawyer who filed a lawsuit on his behalf for the emotional distress that Stacy suffered as a result of the accident. Stacy’s maritime lawyer needed to successfully argue several points in order to make out his claim. First, the maritime lawyer needed to argue that the owner or operator of the freighter was negligent and that his negligence caused the collision. The idea behind negligence is that the ship owner or employer was irresponsible and created an unsafe situation. The maritime lawyer also needed to argue that Stacy was close enough to the accident to allow him to believe that he was about to be seriously injured and that this knowledge caused him to suffer serious emotional damage.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the maritime lawyer that Stacy had asserted a valid claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, which could be compensated if the maritime lawyer was able to prove the freighter’s negligence and Stacy’s psychiatric injuries.

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