The Jones Act protects people who work at sea. It allows injured maritime workers to sue employers for negligent behavior, such as providing an unseaworthy vessel.
We have discussed unseaworthiness in the past and it is far from a nebulous concept. It is a type of negligence in maritime law with fairly strict definitions and regulations in place. An unseaworthy ship might not be obviously dangerous at first glance, but there may be critical safety hazards on board that endanger workers.
Missing safety equipment
Seaworthiness is not simply a question of whether the ship can sail. Rather, it is a question of whether the ship and its equipment are “reasonably fit” for use.
Like all workplaces, ships must adhere to safety regulations. If the required safety equipment is missing, broken or not functional, the ship is unseaworthy.
Poorly secured cargo can fall on workers, injuring or killing them. The cargo itself can also sustain damage, which can have catastrophic results if it contains hazardous chemicals. In extreme cases, shifting cargo can cause the vessel to capsize.
Health hazards can make a ship unseaworthy. These include unsuitable drinking water and spoiled or contaminated food supplies.
Trip, slip and fall hazards on a ship can render it unseaworthy. These may include:
- Missing or defective railings
- Slippery decks
- Open stairwells
- Loose ropes, debris and other tripping hazards
Hazards such as these could lead to devastating injuries or even fatalities.
A qualified crew is a requirement of a seaworthy vessel. Understaffing and inadequate training can affect seaworthiness. Unfit crew members, such as those who display violent or dangerous behavior, can also make a vessel unseaworthy.
Seaworthiness requires that the vessel be fit and reasonably safe for workers. Failing to provide a seaworthy ship can lead to liability under the Jones Act.