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What is an unseaworthiness claim under maritime law?

When a Louisiana maritime worker is injured on the job, there are two main theories under which the employer and the vessel owner can be held liable. One of these is the Jones Act, a federal law which allows the seaman to bring a negligence action against the employer. The other is the older maritime law doctrine of unseaworthiness.

Under the law, a vessel and its equipment must be reasonably fit for its intended purposes. An unseaworthy condition exists if the vessel, or the equipment in question, is not fit for its intended purpose.

A vessel does not have to be in danger of sinking for an unseaworthy condition to exist. A slippery deck that causes a worker to fall can be considered an unseaworthy condition that will trigger liability. Defective gear or equipment or a crew that is inadequate for the tasks that need to be done, can also create unseaworthy conditions.

An injured maritime worker can bring an unseaworthiness claim in the same lawsuit as a negligence claim under the Jones Act. Although there is no right to a trial by jury under general maritime law, there is a such a right under the Jones Act. When the worker brings both claims in one action that worker is entitled to a jury trial on both claims.

Injured maritime workers should understand that they have important legal rights. Enforcing those rights is not always a simple matter, however. Ship owners and maritime employers often fight injury claims aggressively. An experienced maritime injury lawyer can help the injured worker level the playing field and recover fair compensation.

Source:, "Injuries at Sea: Establishing Liability," accessed Nov. 6, 2016

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