Providing a seaworthy vessel?

I used to work at several places where commercial fishing vessels were hauled. I once spent an entire weekend under the keel of some hull with a grinder. It was a rush job, and my task was to prep things for the skilled labor on Monday morning. It was hot and while probably bobbling a cigarette, the grinder slipped and took a nice chunk out of my knee. I still wear the half-moon scar. That memory surfaced when I read a recent appellate decision that found a vessel unseaworthy.

Now understand that an appellate decision can sometimes read so clinically that the background color of the injury and facts are lost. But I’m curious what you all think of this decision, and hopefully you will e-mail me and let me know.

Here’s what I understand: The D-rings aboard a vessel were frozen, a crewmember is tasked with loosening the same, he goes at it with gusto believing the vessel is to sail in a few days, he uses a sledgehammer and crowbar and through physical force, loosens the D-rings.

Anyway, after working at these D-rings for several days, the crewman awakens one morning in pain. A diagnosis is made and the treating doctor causally links the D-ring activities with the pain. A lawsuit follows and the district court finds that the vessel was unseaworthy because the owner did not provide adequate manpower and tools given the time frame. In late March, the appellate court upheld (meaning “supported”) the district court’s decision.

Unseaworthiness generally means a vessel isn’t fit for its intended purpose. As a laborer lying on asphalt grinding away at a keel box, I wasn’t entitled to a seaworthy vessel, but crewmembers in the service of a vessel are. Here, however, what I want to know is whether you believe the duty of providing a seaworthy vessel is stretched too thin by this decision? Should the duty of providing a seaworthy vessel be modulated so as to place some responsibility on the crewmember? I’d like to hear what you think. To comment on my blog, e-mail me at john@fulweilerlaw.com or just visit my law firm’s new website for contact details.

I’m taking no position here, just curious. Underway and making way. 

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About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at john@fulweilerlaw.com . His website is www.saltwaterlaw.com.

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