Working on the water may not be riskier to life and limb than logging or trucking, but it comes with unique challenges that require a certain firmness from workers who choose it. And these special challenges have convinced governments to afford maritime crews and laborers special protections so they can do their jobs.
The concept of admiralty law was one of early nations’ ways of protecting their assets and citizens on the high seas. Among other important ideas, these laws allow governments to claim jurisdiction over their flagged ships in territorial or international waters. For example, if a crime takes place on a U.S. flagged ship many miles off the coast, a U.S. court can rule on it.
This protection also allows injured workers to claim benefits similar to workers’ compensation if they need financial help in recovery. However, the U.S. Supreme Court just issued a ruling that suggests workers cannot claim punitive damages, as they would in a civil lawsuit in a state court, based on the unseaworthiness of the worker’s vessel.
There are other circumstances in which a worker may claim punitive damages, such as an employer’s negligence or wanton disregard of proper maintenance. The majority opinion, in this case, included a lack of historical precedent for sailors and crew to claim damages designed to punish offenders.
Workers who may have a case for compensation under admiralty law should consider legal representation to help deal with the case. A lawyer can help investigate the specific circumstances of an injury at sea and work towards the funds they need to recover.