Merchant Seamen

A merchant seaman is a worker who spends a significant time working onboard a vessel at sea. A great variety of workers fall into this category since many different skills are necessary to operate a vessel. The vessel must be properly fueled and powered, navigated along a designated route, and provide food, cleaning, and sleeping accommodations for crew and any passengers. Examples of maritime workers include:

Besides seamen, there are other maritime workers. Longshoremen essentially work in harbors loading and unloading cargo from a vessel. As discussed below, this difference is important when it comes to seeking compensation after experiencing an injury at sea.

What Happens If a Merchant Seaman is Injured on the Job?

All workers are entitled to a workplace where their employer provides appropriate safety and health protections. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has authority to evaluate safety and health conditions in the workplace, issue citations to employers who fail to meet safety and health standards, and require corrective action. Despite OSHA’s activities, seamen continue to sustain injuries at work.

There is a significant difference between how land-based workers and merchant seamen are compensated after work injury. Generally, land-based workers are entitled to Workers’ Compensation. This is a no-fault insurance program that provides a certain percentage of lost wages and for medical expense costs related to the injury. This is not true of merchant seamen.

Maintenance and Cure

There is an alternative legal basis for compensating injured seamen. Under the Jones Act, a maritime employer must provide a reasonably safe place to work and use ordinary care under the circumstances to maintain the vessel in a reasonably safe condition. If a seaman is injured on the job due to a failure of the employer to meet this standard, then they are entitled to recover financially under the maintenance and cure theory.

Maintenance refers to reasonable costs for living expenses, such as food, lodging, and transportation to and from medical examinations and treatment. Cure refers to the cost of medical attention, including treatment for injuries sustained while at work. It also covers costs such as hospitalization, medicine, and medical apparatus related to the injury. There is a cap to the amount of cure that will be paid. It is reached when no further improvement in the medical condition can reasonably be expected.

Failures on the part of marine employers that have resulted in successful claims for maintenance and cure under the Jones Act include:

  • Grease or oil on the deck
  • Improperly maintained equipment
  • Inadequate or lack of necessary personal protective equipment
  • Insufficient training
  • Failing to require safe work methods be followed

In contrast, a longshoreman or other harbor-worker can be compensated for a workplace injury under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LSHWCA). This Act was passed to fill a gap in maritime law to provide compensation to injured marine-based workers that are not seamen.

Compensation for Injuries Related to an Unseaworthy Vessel

The entitlement to maintenance and cure is a separate issue from compensation for injuries that a seaman sustained as a result of an unseaworthy vessel. Vessel owners have a duty to provide a seaworthy ship. Failure to do so creates additional liability for injuries sustained by seamen as a result of the vessel not being seaworthy.

An unseaworthy vessel is one that is not reasonably fit for its intended purpose. Malfunctioning equipment or broken equipment that is needed to operate the vessel can result in a finding that a vessel is unseaworthy. In this case, liability goes to the owner of the vessel. If the owner is not employer, then it is possible for an injured seaman to have claims against more than one entity for the same injury.

Cape May Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for Merchant Seamen Injured at Sea

If you or someone you know was injured at sea, it is important to contact a Cape May maritime lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. right away. We will fight to obtain the compensation you deserve for your injuries. For a free consultation, call us at 888-999-1962 or submit an online form today. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cape May and Wildwood.