The loss of a loved one is never easy. And while the emotional toll may be more than you can bear, the financial realities of your situation can be overwhelming, too. Lost wages and funeral costs, for example, may be more than enough to throw you and your family into financial turmoil.
You might take at least some comfort in the fact that you may be able to recover compensation by taking legal action, but what does that look like? First, it’s important to note that workers’ compensation laws don’t apply to injuries and deaths at sea. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself about the Jones Act, and other maritime laws, and how you can use it to your advantage. This means that you’ll likely have to gather and present evidence of negligence on the employer’s part, but there may be an easier avenue to finding accountability and recovering the compensation that you and your family deserve.
The importance of seaworthiness
Under the Jones Act and maritime laws, seafaring vessels are required to be seaworthy. This means that the vessel’s hull and equipment are reasonably adequate, and that the ship is properly staffed. In other words, the vessel has to be a safe environment for work. It’s important to note, then, that even unseaworthy vessels can still technically navigate in the water, but they remain dangerous to those who are onboard.
Proving unseaworthiness may be crucial to your case because under maritime laws, unseaworthiness is assessed under strict liability. This means that you don’t have to prove that anyone was at fault for your loved one’s death. Instead, you simply have to prove that the vessel was, in fact, unseaworthy and that unseaworthiness caused your loved one’s death.
Of course, if you’re going to pursue a Jones Act claim, then you’re going to have to present evidence that shows that the vessel in question was unseaworthy. Here, your focus is on demonstrating that the condition of the vessel or its equipment was in an unreasonable condition. This may mean showing that navigation or safety equipment was improperly maintained, or that the crew was inadequately trained. Exposure to water leaks, toxic fumes, and slip-and-fall hazards can all render a vessel unseaworthy. Evidence of snapped pulleys, improper riggings, and broken equipment can also support a showing of unseaworthiness.
Where to look for evidence
There are many places to look for evidence of unseaworthiness, including each of the following:
- Witnesses who may have observed the unreasonable conditions aboard the ship
- Maintenance reports that are kept by the vessel owner and the employer
- Any documented OSHA reports that may be indicative of unsafe working conditions
- Inspection reports that may have raised concerns about equipment onboard the ship
- Records pertaining to crew hiring and training
Keep in mind, too, that you’ll have to prove the extent of your damages in one of these cases, so don’t forget to assess the financial and emotional losses that you’ve suffered.