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Maritime Law Claims
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Before the Jones Act was passed in 1920, there was the General Maritime Law. The General Maritime Law consisted of court decisions handed down through the years as judges gradually determined the rights of seamen. A ship owner’s duty to provide a seaworthy vessel and a seaman’s right to receive maintenance, cure, and unearned wages are among the pillars of the General Maritime Law.
A vessel owner has an obligation to exercise due diligence to make his vessel seaworthy and to properly man, equip, and supply the vessel. This obligation is viewed by the courts as an absolute duty owed to the seamen in service to the vessel. If a seaman is injured or becomes ill as a result of the vessel’s unseaworthiness, the owner is liable to the seaman for his damages or loss.
If unsafe conditions aboard a vessel causes or contributes to a maritime injury, then the injured party may be entitled to recovery under an unseaworthiness claim. A vessel owner is obligated to provide a seaworthy vessel to all who enter it. Maintaining the safety of the vessel includes the duty to properly man, equip, and supply the vessel. Proper manning involves providing an adequate crew that is properly trained. The vessel should be adequately supplied and all equipment must be in safe working order. A claim for unseaworthiness may be pursued together with or independent of a Jones Act negligence claim.
Maintenance and Cure
Every seaman who becomes sick or injured during the course of his employment, regardless of fault of his employer, crewmembers, or the owner or operator of the vessel, is entitled to his maintenance and cure. The courts agree that these duties arise out of the context of the employment relationship and do not require the existence of any negligence or fault of the vessel.
Maintenance and cure benefits are owed to the seaman until he is fit for duty or until he reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI). Maintenance benefits are intended to provide for the injured seaman’s reasonable room and board while ashore. The cure benefits include all reasonable medical expenses incurred by the seaman for treatment.
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