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What does 'unseaworthiness' mean in maritime accidents?

As a seaman, you probably already know that if you suffer injuries while performing your duties, you may seek compensation for them under the Jones Act. As part of that process, you will need to prove either that your employer was negligent in some small matter or the "unseaworthiness" of the vessel.

If you are like others here in Rhode Island, you may think that unseaworthiness refers to the ability of the vessel to remain afloat, so you may not consider this as part of your claim since the vessel was, in fact, not sinking at the time you suffered your injury. However, when it comes to claims under the Jones Act, unseaworthiness means something quite different.

So, what is it then?

The general legal definition of unseaworthiness refers to any condition aboard the vessel that makes it unsafe and causes you injury. The law requires your employer to provide you with a safe work environment, and a major part of that duty requires the vessel to be seaworthy. Any number of things could make a vessel unfit, and many of them include problems or inadequacies with the following:

  • Medical supplies, equipment and treatment rooms
  • The structure and design of the vessel
  • Mechanical equipment
  • Windows, hatches, doors and portholes
  • Lack of properly lifting equipment or elevators
  • Cranes, pulleys, hoists and winches
  • Lack of appropriate safety lines or scaffolding
  • Lack of appropriate safety equipment
  • Cooking equipment, facilities and accessories
  • Bunk compartments
  • Lines and ropes

Many of the accidents that occur on vessels are associated with the condition of their decks. Slippery stairways and decks not only cause slip and falls but also lifting injuries since you may need to appropriately brace yourself in order to avoid falling while lifting something. If any deficiencies or inadequacies in any of the above deny you a safe and seaworthy vessel, then your employer may be liable for your injuries.

Proving unseaworthiness or negligence

Fortunately, you don't have to show the court that the boat was about to sink. All you need to prove is that some aspect of the vessel failed to meet the seaworthiness standard, and it led to your injuries. That may seem like a simple task, but often it isn't. You will need to provide the court with the appropriate evidence to prove your claim.

In order to increase your chances of successfully obtaining the compensation you deserve, it may be a good idea to further explore the meaning on unseaworthiness and gain an understanding of your rights and legal options.

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