Working in the maritime industry present more safety risks to workers than virtually any other industry out there. While there are a lot of different things that contribute to these safety issues, one of the most important are the vessels themselves, upon which these workers earn their livelihoods. The vessels upon which maritime workers go about their jobs must be properly constructed, maintained and inspected in order to ensure their continued seaworthiness. If this doesn’t happen, then those workers are exposed to some of the greatest safety risks that they can be. At best, “unseaworthiness” may cause a malfunction of the boat’s systems, at worst it could cause the boat to sink, leading to myriad kinds of injuries and even loss of life.
Those who own the vessels that maritime workers take out to sea are required by admiralty law to ensure that their vessels are capable of going about their tasks. Many different aspects of the vessel itself fall under this umbrella. For example, this does not merely include the hull of the vessel, which keeps it afloat. This umbrella also includes anything from the superstructure aboard a cargo ship to the hatches that divide different sections of the boat. Each one of these ship elements must be properly maintained to ensure that the boat itself is a safe place in which to work.
It’s important to note that ‘seaworthiness’ doesn’t just refer to any given vessel’s ability to travel on water. While this is certainly important, the determination of seaworthiness is much broader than that. If any of the elements that comprise the structure of the ship fall into disrepair or are no longer able to perform the tasks that they need to, then the ship itself is considered to be unseaworthy, even if they don’t impede to vessel from travelling.
So, what does this mean for those who work on maritime vessels? A claim for injuries suffered due to an accident involving a faulty component of the ship itself can be made on the premise that the ship itself is unseaworthy. When such a claim is made, it is made against the owner of the ship, who the law holds to have a duty to provide a safe working environment for those aboard his or her vessel. Even something as simple as a faulty hatch is covered under these guidelines.
The Jones Act holds that those who own vessels are bound by something called absolute duty. But, what does that mean? This absolute duty requires that those who own vessels ensure the absolute seaworthiness of the vessels under their ownership. Because of this, they are required to conduct regular inspections of the vessels that they own, to repair any problems that they uncover, and also that to conduct routine maintenance on all of the components that make up the vessel. This absolute duty also extends to products that are used in the normal course of work on the vessel but that are not actually a part of the vessel itself. In this case, laws pertaining to defective products and negligence may also apply.
Failing to provide a seaworthy vessel to workers is a serious offence, and one that the law takes very seriously. Because of this, those workers who suffer injuries due to an unseaworthy vessel have a right to seek compensation and damages for any injuries that they might suffer. In order to do this, it will be necessary to retain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable maritime lawyer, as cases of this nature can often become fairly complex.