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Can a seaman sue his employer?

You may have been working on your ship for almost 20 years. As with any job on the very unpredictable seas, sometimes it can be very dangerous. You have been taking the proper precautions, until one day those very rough seas caused something to fall on you and you are injured. What do you do?

What is a seaman?

You are considered a seaman if you spend most of your employed time on the water or sea. If you spend the majority of your time as a captain or crewmember on a vessel. However, if you are injured on the water, unlike most other employees, you cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits under the federal or state law. Under federal law, there are three different types of reimbursement you can collect.

  • The first is under a federal law called the Jones Act, you are entitled to sue your employer for neglect. Under the Jones Act, your employer is considered at fault even if you the seaman contributed to the accident which caused your injury. Your employer can pay for your lost wages, physical pain and suffering, medical costs and expenses, as well as any mental and emotional trauma.
  • Secondly, under the federal maritime doctrine of unseaworthiness, you can sue the owner of the vessel where you were injured. The term unseaworthiness does not mean that the vessel was completely unsafe or possibly sinking. It could just mean some equipment was not working properly on the ship or was old or needs repair. The owner will still be considered liable.
  • Third, despite who is to blame for your injury, you can receive something called maintenance and cure. In maritime law, this takes care of you while you are recovering from the injury. It does not matter who is at fault. Maintenance means providing room and board for you. It also means taking care of your food, mortgage, rent, utilities and property taxes. Cure means your employer is taking care of your medical expenses. It must be paid for until you are feeling better.

If you are a seaman working on a ship of any kind, it is important to know your rights if you are ever injured while working. You may also consider contacting an attorney if you need additional information or have any questions.