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Can an injured seaman or fisherman bring a claim for injuries caused at work?

The Jones Act allows an injured seaman or fisherman to bring a claim against his or her employer for the negligence which caused the injury. The following are some examples of negligence that may cause injuries under maritime law:

  • Failure to provide safe equipment
  • Failure to maintain the vessel and equipment
  • Failure to hire a competent captain or crew
  • Failure to properly train the crew
  • Failure to provide a safe place to work
  • Working in too heavy weather
  • Assigning inexperienced crew to run equipment
  • Failure to follow safety rules
  • Ordering a seaman or fisherman to work excessive hours
  • Failure to provide prompt or adequate medical treatment
  • Failure to put guards on machinery
  • Failure to follow "lock out, tag out" procedures
  • Having a vessel undermanned or understaffed
  • Having crew perform repetitive hand movements that cause carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis
  • Having obstacles in pathways
  • Failure to provide appropriate clothing or gear

Injured seamen and fishermen may also have claims against their employers for "unseaworthiness if the vessel or its equipment is defective in some way. These are a few problems that your employer may be responsible for due to an unseaworthy vessel:

  • Equipment that fails under use
  • Broken planks or deck boards
  • Hydraulic fluid or oil on deck
  • Insufficient crew
  • Defective hull
  • Unreasonably slippery decks
  • Obstructions on deck
  • Tripping hazards
  • Defective or insufficient tools
  • Stairs being too steep or lacking handrails
  • Not having adequate lifesaving equipment on board
  • Dangerous machinery not being guarded

Seamen and fishermen are not subject to workers' compensation laws. The only exception is fish processors who work on factory ships or barges moored within three miles of Alaska, who are subject to both the Jones Act and the state compensation laws of Alaska. If they are injured, they must choose either to sue under the Jones Act or to apply for Alaska State Comp benefits.

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