Injured mariners have special protections

Maritime injuries are different from those suffered ashore. The remedies and processes to seek compensation are different. There are two big issues.

First, crewmembers must remain wards of the admiralty court. That is, the courts give them special attention and protection. I’ve read a few things lately that advocate a change of course on this. That’s flat-out boardroom talk. But sailors today are in a different spot, with protections afforded by modern technology, strong unions and well-run ships, they say. Not so and the maritime courts don’t seem to think so either.

Still, the scope of these protections is not unlimited. The court is not going to unduly favor a crewmember to the prejudice of his or her employer or the shipowner. By tucking a crewmember under its judicial wing, the admiralty court is simply making certain the seas are even and the fight is fair.

Second, the Jones Act is a federal statute allowing a crewmember to sue his or her employer to recover for injuries. In a recent appeal involving the Jones Act, the issue was whether a crewmember could seek damages for an injury caused by excessive stress and an erratic sleep schedule. The appellate court said no, you need an injury caused by a physical peril to recover under the Jones Act handing the employer an appellate win.

An elegantly written dissent explained why I, too, disagreed with this outcome. The plaintiff pleaded and proved to a jury’s satisfaction that the company’s working environment, which included average workdays of 16 hours, caused damage to his heart. The jury, the dissenting opinion said, was asked to identify whether the injury was “emotional” or “physical.” It decided it was a physical injury. Deference, the dissent said, should’ve been given to the jury. Indeed, indeed.

The injured maritime worker has special protections unique to his or her employment. On top of a Jones Act remedy, injured crew may also have claims for unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure, and punitive damages.

Underway and making way.

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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