The owner of a vessel has an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel for his crew. Therefore, an injured seaman may sue the owner of the vessel on which the seaman was working if the vessel was unseaworthy at the time of an accident. A vessel is unseaworthy if it, its equipment, or its crew are not reasonably fit for their intended purpose. An unseaworthiness claim may arise if a condition of the vessel was unsafe, the vessel contained defective or unsafe equipment, or the crew was not adequately trained.
If a seaman proves that the vessel was unseaworthy, he may recover damages for his:
(1) lost income, including wages that the seaman was not paid because of the injury and future wages that he will not be able to earn because of the injury;
(2) medical expenses, including medical costs already incurred by the seaman because of the injury and medical costs that he will incur in the future because of the injury; and
(3) pain and suffering, including past and future pain and suffering resulting from the injury.
A seaman may recover damages for unseaworthiness under the Jones Act in addition to any unearned wages or maintenance and cure benefits he recovers. However, a seaman may not recover any damages under the Jones Act unless his employer was negligent or the vessel was unseaworthy.
Third Party Lawsuits
If a party other than the vessel’s owner contributed in part to the unseaworthiness of the vessel, then the seaman may file a third party action against the responsible party in addition to his unseaworthiness claim against the owner.