FEBRUARY 24, 2011 by Bill Abbott
There are three major offshore claims for remedies that an injured seaman can bring against his employer and the vessel that he works upon. These remedies include maintenance and cure, the warranty of seaworthiness and a negligence action through the Jones Act. However, the first hurdle that a maritime employee must pass before he is eligible to bring one or more of the aforementioned offshore claims is to obtain “seaman status”.
The courts have defined “seaman status” as “an employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation.” Essentially, “seaman status” requires a maritime worker to “contribute to the mission or work of a vessel and have a connection to that vessel which is substantial in duration and nature.” Mahramas v. American Export Isbrandtsen Lines, Inc., 475 F.2d 165 (2nd Cir. 1973).
The second hurdle that a maritime worker must clear is that the legal status of his ship must be defined as a “vessel”. In order for a ship or watercraft to be considered a “vessel” for purposes of the aforementioned offshore claims, it must be operating on navigable waters. Stanfield v. Shellmaker, Inc., 869 F.2d 521 (9th Cir. 1989). A seaman or maritime worker is not covered by the offshore claims mentioned here if he performs work on a fixed platform or on a vessel that is under construction.
Once a seaman passes the two qualifying hurdles of “seaman” and “vessel” status, he may bring offshore claims for maintenance and cure, unseaworthiness and negligence under the Jones Act. Maintenance and cure benefits are limited to medical expenses, wages to the end of the voyage and living expenses during the seaman’s treatment.
The operator of a vessel owes a “duty of seaworthiness” to the seamen who work on the ship. If the vessel is defective or not reasonably fit for its intended use, a seaman may bring a claim against the vessel owner for unseaworthiness if the defective condition caused his injury.
Under the Jones Act, a maritime employer may be held liable if a seaman is injured because of the employer’s negligence. All three of these offshore claims may be used against a maritime employer at the same time if facts exist to support each of the claims individually.