What We Are Fighting For
What Are We Fighting For? A Brief Synopsis on the Damages Available in Maritime Personal Injury Cases.
As Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Marshall wrote in 1803, “[t]he very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws, whenever he receives an injury. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection.” The general maritime law of the United States, through the laws established by U.S. Congress and the federal judiciary, affords injured individuals the protection of the laws.
The general maritime of the United States is an evolving and often confusing body of law, whose roots can be traced back to the ancient codes used by merchants, traders and seaman to conduct commerce in ports centered around the Mediterranean Sea. The Code of Hammurabi written around 1800 B.C., has provisions addressing marine collisions and the chartering of vessels. The general maritime law of the United States (hereinafter referred to as “general maritime law”) consists of judge made case law and statutory provisions enacted by the U.S. Congress. Despite the general maritime law’s old and strong foundation, the different causes of actions and the types of damages available to injured parties are still evolving and being chartered by the courts.
This paper will provide a brief overview of the different types of damages available to injured parties under the general maritime law based upon the category or status of the individual party. It is well settled that the general maritime law may be supplemented by state law in certain circumstances, including state workers’ compensation statutes, wrongful death and survival statutes, etc., which are not covered for the most part in this paper. The categories of injured parties in a maritime personal injury or death case may be divided into three (3) broad categories. These categories include: (1) seamen; (2) longshoremen and harbor workers; and (3) nonmaritime workers.
The general maritime law is unique with its own laws, remedies, presumptions, and customs that differ greatly from land-based law. In order to effectively represent your client in a maritime personal injury action, whether from the defense or plaintiff side, it is crucial to recognize the difference between land-based law and the general maritime law.
This paper will not address the often turbulent and confused seas that guide the maritime lawyer with regards to the damages available in maritime wrongful death and survival cases. These damages will be the focus of future voyages.
The seamen category consists of maritime workers who are members of the crew of a vessel or a fleet of vessels. In developing a test for seaman status, the Supreme Court has focused “on the nature of the seaman’s service, his status as a member of the vessel, and his relationship as such to the vessel and its operation in navigable waters.” Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 359, 60, 115 S.Ct. 2172, 2185, 1995 AMC 1840 (1995). “The key to seaman status … is employment related connection to a vessel in navigation.” Id. From these basic principles, the Supreme Court set forth a two-part test to determine whether an individual is entitled to Jones Act protection as a seaman. To prove seaman status, an employee must establish his (1) “employment-related connection” (2) to a vessel in navigation. McDermott Int’l. Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S.337, 354-55, 111 S.Ct. 807, 1991 AMC 913, 926 (1991).
An employment-related connection to a vessel exists if two conditions are satisfied: first, an employee’s duties must “contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission” or doing ship’s work. Chandris, 515 U.S. at 368, 115 S.Ct. at 2190, 1995 AMC at 1856. Second, the employee’s connection to the vessel (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) “must be substantial in both its duration and nature.” Id. For the second part of the test, “[t]he Jones Act remedy is reserved for sea-based maritime employees whose work regularly exposes them to ‘the special hazards and disadvantages to which they who go down to sea in ships are subjected.”’ Chandris, 115 S.Ct. 2190-91, 1995 AMC at 1857-58. Generally, a worker who spends less than 30 (30%) percent of his time in the service of a vessel in navigation should not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act.
B.Longshoremen And Other Harbor Workers
The longshoreman and other harbor worker category of maritime workers includes longshoremen who load and unload vessels in the Port of Charleston and other ports on a daily basis, vessel repairers, certain bridge builders, harbor pilots, marina employees and other workers who are not employed thirty percent or more on a vessel or an identifiable fleet of vessels.
This third category is a very broad one that includes recreational boaters, recreational fishermen, swimmers, passengers on a recreational boat or jet ski, cruise ship passengers, water skiers, and other people seeking pleasure on a boat or using the navigable waters of the United States. Recreational boaters can include someone taking his family out for a Sunday afternoon voyage on the Ashley River, a jet skier off of Sullivan’s Island or the Isle of Palms, or a group of friends going deep sea fishing thirty miles of off the coast of Charleston in the Atlantic Ocean.
II.DAMAGES AVAILABLE TO NONMARITIME WORKERS
Injured recreational boaters and other nonmaritime workers are entitled to recover their past medical expenses and future medical expenses that can be proven. Sweeney v. Car/Puter Intern. Corp., 521 F.Supp. 276, 1982 A.M.C. 622 (D. S.C. 1981); Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F. Supp. 438, 449, 1994 AMC 2554 (D. S.C. 1994); Todd v. Schneider, 2003 WL 23514560, 2004 A.M.C. 409 (D.S.C. 2003). For the medical opinion of an expert witness to meet the legal requirements for admissibility on the need for medical care resulting from a personal injury, it must be in terms of reasonable degree of medical certainty, or more likely than not, or probably caused, that Defendant’s actions caused Plaintiff’s injuries. Fitzgerald v. Manning, 679 F.2d 341 (4th Cir 1982); United States v. Baller, 519 F.2d 463 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 1019 (1975).
The general maritime law recognizes the collateral source rule. Chisholm v. UHP Projects, Inc., 205 F.3d 731, 741, 2000 A.M.C. 1050 (4th Cir. 2000); Blige v. M/V GEECHEE GIRL, 180 F.Supp.2d 1349, 1357, 2001 A.M.C. 2425 (S.D.Ga. 2001). As such, if a private heath insurance carrier has paid for the past medical expenses, a tortfeasor is still required to reimburse the injured recreational boater for the past medical expenses.
An injured nonmaritime worker is entitled to damages for any past, present and future wage loss that has been caused by the maritime tort. Sweeney v. Car/Puter Intern. Corp., 521 F.Supp. 276, 287, 1982 A.M.C. 622 (D. S.C. 1981). With regards to the future wage loss, damages may be awarded for future loss of earning capacity. Id. The loss of future earning capacity awards damages for any impairment to future earning capacity caused by the injury. Id. The future wage loss or loss of earning capacity must be reduced to present value. Id.
C.Pain and Suffering
Past, present and future pain and suffering is recoverable under the General maritime law for injuries to a recreational boater. Sweeney v. Car/Puter Intern. Corp., 521 F.Supp. 276, 287, 1982 A.M.C. 622 (D. S.C. 1981); Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F. Supp. 438, 449, 1994 AMC 2554 (D. S.C. 1994). While there is no exact measurement for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and impairment of earning capacity, mathematical precision in ascertaining damages is not required by the court. Brooks v. United States, 273 F. Supp. 619 (D. S.C. 1967). Moreover, under the Maritime Law, a negligent defendant takes the plaintiff(s) the way they find him, including any preexisting weakness or susceptibility to injury, including weakness caused by a preexisting condition. Maurer v. U.S., 668 F.2d 98 (2nd Cir. 1981). Thus, if a plaintiff’s asymptomatic condition becomes symptomatic as a result of the collision caused by the defendant’s negligence, then the defendant is liable for causing the plaintiff damages, including pain.
D.Emotional Distress and Mental Anguish
Emotional distress and mental anguish suffered by an injured nonmaritime worker is also compensable. These types of damages do not have to be shown through mathematical precision as well. Brooks v. United States, 273 F. Supp. 619 (D. S.C. 1967). Under the “zone of danger” doctrine for recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff may recover damages even if there is no physical contact, so long as plaintiff witnesses peril or harm to another and is also threatened with physical harm as consequence of defendant’s negligence. Chan v. Society Expeditions, Inc., 39 F.3d 1398 (9th Cir. 1994).
Disfigurement due to scarring, loss of a limb or some other type of change to the body is a recoverable element of damage. Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F. Supp. 438, 453, 1994 AMC 2554 (D. S.C. 1994).
F.Loss of Enjoyment of Life
As for loss of enjoyment of life, these damages compensate an injured plaintiff for no longer engaging in the recreational activities he enjoyed so much before an injury, including playing with his young children and other hobbies. Sweeney v. Car/Puter Intern. Corp., 521 F.Supp. 276, 288, 1982 A.M.C. 622 (D. S.C. 1981); Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F. Supp. 438, 449, 1994 AMC 2554 (D. S.C. 1994)
G.Loss of Family Services
Evidence can be adduced that adequately supports an award of damages for loss of family services which an injured nonmaritime worker previously provided to his family. This includes damages for cooking, cleaning, laundry, handling financial matters, home improvements, gardening, maintenance, car repair, etc. Sweeney v. Car/Puter Intern. Corp., 521 F.Supp. 276, 287, 1982 A.M.C. 622 (D. S.C. 1981). These damages must also be reduced to present value. Id.
H.Loss of Consortium Claims
Plaintiffs are also entitled to recover a sum of money that will reasonably compensate them for loss of consortium under the General maritime law. Sweeney v. Car/Puter Intern. Corp., 521 F.Supp. 276, 288, 1982 A.M.C. 622 (D. S.C. 1981); Schumacher v. Cooper, 850 F. Supp. 438, 449, 1994 AMC 2554 (D. S.C. 1994); Emery v. Rock Island Boat Works, Inc., 847 F. Supp. 114, 116 (C.D. Ill.1994). Consortium involves the love and affection, the companionship and society, the comfort, aid, advice, and solace, the rendering of material services, and any other elements that normally arise in a close, intimate, and harmonious marriage relationship. Id.; Ozzello v. Peterson Builders, Inc., 743 F. Supp. 1302, 1315 (E.D. Wis. 1990).
In admiralty cases, a district court has discretion to award prejudgment interest and should award prejudgment interest, unless the limited exception for “peculiar” or “exceptional” circumstances exists. City of Milwaukee v. Cement Division, National Gypsum Co., 115 S.Ct. 2091, 2095-96 (1995); Yarmouth Sea Products Ltd. v. Scully,131 F.3d 389, 395 (4th Cir. 1998)(award of prejudgment interest affirmed); Noritake Co., Inc. v. M/V Hellenic Champion, 627 F.2d 724 (5th Cir. 1980).
Some courts have found that punitive damages are available to injured nonmaritime workers. In re Horizon Cruises Litigation, 101 F.Supp.2d 204 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). Generally, punitive damages are available where defendant’s intentional or wanton and reckless conduct amounted to a conscious disregard of the rights of others.
III.DAMAGES AVAILABLE TO LONGSHOREMAN AND OTHER WORKERS
A.Workers’ Compensation Benefits From the Employer
Injured longshoremen and other maritime workers who do not qualify as seamen have a claim under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (hereinafter referred to as “Longshore Act”), 33 U.S.C. § 903, et. seq., against their employer for medical care and workers’ compensation. Depending on the situation, these workers may also have a claim under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act and other state acts. See Colback v. Travelers, 370 U.S. 114 (1962); Sun Shipbuilding v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 447 U.S. 715 (1980).
While the Longshore Act’s purpose is very similar to the purpose of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, to provide medical care and compensation benefits to workers who are injured during the course and scope of their employment, regardless of the negligence of the employer or employee, substantial differences exist between the two acts.
Usually, the Longshore Act provides the injured maritime worker with much greater compensation benefits than the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. The current maximum weekly compensation rate under the Longshore Act is $1,114.44 per week in compensation benefits, while the maximum South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act rate is $645.94. Under the Longshore Act, an injured employee is entitled to compensation at a rate of two thirds (2/3) his average weekly wage for the fifty-two (52) weeks preceding the date of injury up to a maximum of $1,114.44 per week.
Employees covered by the Longshore Act are entitled to four types of compensation, Temporary Total Disability, Temporary Partial Disability, Permanent Partial Disability and Permanent Total Disability. Permanent impairments to certain body parts, such as the lower extremity, upper extremity, hand, eyes, ears, etc. are considered scheduled losses. See 33 U.S.C. § 908(c). The amount of permanent impairment an injured employee is entitled to receive is based upon the schedule, regardless of the wage loss. With regards to claims for Permanent Partial Disability and Permanent Total Disability for unscheduled body part, which includes a back injury, an employee may be entitled to life-time compensation for any wage lost caused by the on the job injury. See 33 U.S.C. § 908(c)(21).
2.Life Time Medical Care
Employees are entitled to receive lifetime medical care for their injuries under the Longshore Act. This medical care is not limited to medical treatments that are only curative in nature. If a medical treatment is palliative, or makes the pain more tolerable, the employer is required to pay for this medical care as well.
The employer is required to reimburse the employee for mileage to and from his doctor and any other type of medical treatment.
In some instances, an Employer/Carrier can be found liable for an employee’s attorney’s fees under the Longshore Act.
B.905(b) Claims Against “Vessels” and Third Parties
An employer’s liability is limited under the Longshore Act to the above discussed statutory benefits (that an employer must pay without regard to any negligence on its part in exchange for tort immunity), the injured employee is permitted to maintain a tort claim against a third party. 33 U.S.C. §§933(a), (I); Norfolk Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Corp. v. Garris, 532 U.S. 811, 818-19 (2001). The Longshore Act expressly preserves all claims against third parties. Id. The general maritime law permits an injured person to maintain an action to recover damages for death and injuries caused by negligence. Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375, 409 (1970)(action lies under general maritime law for death caused by violation of maritime duty); Pope & Talbot, Inc. v. Hawn, 346 U.S. 406, 411-413 (1953); Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v. Dahl, 266 U.S. 449, 457, 45 S.Ct. 157, 69 L.Ed. 372 (1925) (negligence).
“The general maritime law has recognized the tort of negligence for more than a century, and it has been clear since Moragne that breaches of a maritime duty are actionable when they cause death, as when they cause injury.” Norfolk Shipbuilding & Dry dock Corp., 532 U.S. at 812 (2001)(negligence claim permitted against shipyard for death of maritime worker). “It is settled that the general maritime law imposes duties to avoid…negligence …., that nonfatal injuries caused by the breach of [this] duty are compensable.” (citations omitted) Id. at 815.
Section 905(b) reads “In the event of injury to a person covered under this Act caused by the negligence of a vessel, then such person, or anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages by reason thereof, may bring an action against such vessel as a third party….” (emphasis supplied). The term “vessel” under the Longshore Act is defined “said vessel’s owner, owner pro hac vice, agent, operator, charter [sic] or bare boat charterer, master, officer or crew member.” 33 U.S.C. § 902(21).
In direct contradiction to land based workers’ compensation statutes, Section 905(b) of the Longshore Act permits employees to sue their employer for negligence in the event that their employer is the owner or operator of a “vessel”. 33 U.S.C. § 905(b); Reed v. S.S. Yaka, 373 U.S. 410 (1963), rehearing denied 375 U.S. 872 (1963); Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. v. Pfeifer, 462 U.S. 523, 1983 AMC 1881 (1983). The employers in this situation are considered dual status employers, permitting the employee to maintain suit against the employer as a vessel owner under section 905(b).
Damages in a 905(b) claim include the items recoverable under the general maritime law for injured nonmaritime workers. Bates v. Merritt Seafood, Inc., 663 F.Supp. 915, 1989 AMC 81 (D.S.C. 1987). The elements of damage : (1) medical and rehabilitation expenses (past and future); (2)loss of earning capacity (pre-trial and post-trial loss reduced to present-day values); (3) loss of family and personal services (pre-trial and post-trial loss reduced to present-day values); (4) pain and suffering; (5) psychological and emotional injuries; (6) loss of enjoyment of life; (7) permanent disability and disfigurement; (8) loss of society to dependents; and (9) prejudgment interest. Punitive damages are probably also allowed. Id.
It should be noted that an injured longshoreman or harbor worker in a third party action may have greater rights than an injured seamen with regards to the recovery of nonpecuniary damages. An injured longshoreman or harbor worker is entitled to recover nonpecuniary damages from the negligent third party. See Miles v. Apex Marine, 498 U.S. 19, 30-31, 1991 AMC 1, 9-10 (1990).
IV.DAMAGES AVAILABLE TO SEAMEN
On a daily basis in South Carolina and the other coastal states, seamen, which include dredge workers, fishermen, boat captains, and cruise ship workers, are exposed to work related hazards and job duties that are very different than those to which land based workers are exposed. This difference has been recognized by both the U. S. Congress and the courts, which have enacted special statutes and created remedies to address personal injuries to seamen. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Story, acknowledging the need to protect the welfare of seamen, wrote what became the mantra for seamen cases: “[every court should watch with jealousy an encroachment upon the rights of seamen, because they are unprotected and need counsel. They are emphatically wards of admiralty … they are treated in the same manner as courts of equity are accustomed to treat young heirs.” Harden v. Gordon, 11 Fed. Cas. No. 6047 (Cir. Ct. D. Ma. 1823).
As such, a maritime worker who is employed as a seaman is entitled to bring claims for job related injuries under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C sections 30104, et seq. (46 USC App. 688), and for maintenance and cure and unseaworthiness under the general maritime law. See Mitchell v. Trawler Racer, Inc., 362 U.S. 539 (1960). Seamen may also have certain rights under state law, which are not addressed in this paper.
A.Maintenance and Cure
A seaman who becomes ill or injured during the course and scope of his employment, regardless of who was at fault in causing the illness or injury is entitled to maintenance, cure and unpaid wages until the end of the voyage on which the illness or injury occurred. It is not necessary to show a causal relationship between his employment as a seaman and his injury. Instead, a seaman is entitled to maintenance and cure if he meets the burden of proof that his injury or disability occurred while he was generally answerable to the call of duty or in the service of the vessel. Farrell v. United States, 336 U.S. 511,1949 AMC 613 (1949); Waterman S.S. Corp. v. Jones, 318 U.S. 724,1943 AMC 451 (1943).
“Maintenance” is defined as the reasonable cost of the seaman’s room and board while living ashore until the seaman is fit to return to duty or has reached maximum medical cure. Maximum medical cure occurs when the maximum benefit of medical treatment has been received by the seaman and further treatment either will not be curative in nature or the seaman’s injuries will not improve with additional treatment. Vella v. Ford Motor Co., 421 U.S. 1, 1975 AMC 563 (1975). “Cure” is defined as the reasonable cost of curative medical treatment until the seaman reaches maximum medical cure. Thus, the seaman’s employer must pay the seaman maintenance money for his food, room and board until he reaches maximum medical cure.
“Cure” is the payment of medical expenses associated with the injury. Regardless of liability, an employer is required to pay for a seaman’s medical expenses associated with his injury or sickness until a doctor indicates that any future medical treatment will no longer be curative in nature. Kossick v. United Fruit Co., 365 U.S. 731, 1961 AMC 833 (1961). “Curative nature” is defined as medical treatment that will improve a seaman’s injuries as compared to medical treatment that will make the seaman’s injuries more “palatable,” or less painful.
In the event that an employer’s failure to pay maintenance and cure has been willful and arbitrary, then employer will be found liable for payment of the seamen’s reasonable attorney’s fees. Young v. Hair, 2004 WL 3310534, 2005 A.M.C. 28 (E.D.N.C. 2004).
B.Jones Act Damages
The Jones Act provides a cause of action for negligence against an employer for any seaman injured in the course his employment. Chandris Inc. v. Lattsis, 115 S. Ct. 2172, 2182, 1995 AMC 1840, 1844 (1995). “A seaman is entitled to recovery under the Jones Act, therefore, if his employer’s negligence is the cause, in whole or in part, of his injury.” Gautreaux v. Scurlock Marine, Inc., 107 F.3d 331, 335, 1997 AMC 1521, 1526 (5 Cir. 1997). To recover damages under the Jones Act, the seaman’s injuries or death must arise from the negligent acts of the employer, its agents or employees or from a defect in the employer’s equipment that resulted from the employer’s negligence. Hernandez v. Trawler Miss Vertie Mae, Inc., 187 F.3d 432, 436 (4th Cir. 1999).
Jones Act damages are sometimes much broader than the compensation an employee can receive under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. A Jones Act seaman can recover both special and general damages from his employer. Special damages are medical care not paid as “cure” through the date of trial, loss of income not paid as unearned wages and other out of pocket damages through the date of trial. Pfeiffer v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 678 E 2d 453, 460, 1982 AMC 2447, 2456 (3 Cir. 1982). The out of pocket damages include the cost of paying for yard maintenance, domestic services and any other services the Jones Act seaman would have been otherwise able to perform, but for his injuries. Special damages also include the maritime doctrine of “found.” Loss of “found” is the value of room and board a seaman would have received while working on a vessel if he was not injured.
A seaman is entitled to general damages of compensation for past, present and future pain and suffering, disfigurement, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, future medical expenses and future loss of earnings or loss of earning capacity. Id. Even though the Jones Act does not specifically mention that a seaman may recover lost earning capacity, seaman are entitled to claim loss of wage earning capacity as one of their elements of damages. See Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 462 U.S. at 535; Earl v. Bouchard Transportation Co., Inc., 735 F.Supp. 1167, 1171-72 (E.D. N.Y. 1990).
The Jones Act incorporates the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”). In Norfolk & Western Ry. Co. v. Ayers, 538 U.S. 135 (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court held: 1) mental anguish damages resulting from the fear of developing cancer may be recovered under the FELA by a railroad worker suffering from the actionable injury asbestosis caused by work-related exposure to asbestos; (2) although a plaintiff who has asbestosis but not cancer can recover damages for fear of cancer under FELA without proof of physical manifestations of the claimed emotional distress, it is incumbent upon such a plaintiff to prove that his alleged fear is genuine and serious; and (3) FELA allows a worker to recover his entire damages from a railroad whose negligence jointly caused an injury, thus placing on the railroad the burden of seeking contribution from other tortfeasors. As such, a Jones Act seaman is now entitled to recover damages for mental anguish or emotional distress without suffering an actual physical injury. The loss of earning capacity is a loss of the seaman’s potential income in the future and is not always determined by the actual economic loss the seaman is currently suffering. The seaman may recover loss of earning capacity damages even though he may never see fit to take advantage of that capacity. Bouchard Transportation, 735 F. Supp. at 1171-72. In order to recover loss of wage earning capacity, a seaman must show that the injury has caused a diminution in his ability to earn a living, which includes the lessened ability to withstand economic situations, which include discharge or lay-off, etc. In addition, a seaman is not required to prove an impairment of wage earning capacity with mathematical certainty. Sea-Land Services, Inc. v. Gaudet, 414 U.S. 573, 590 (1974) (“As in all damage awards for tortious injury, insistence on mathematical precision would be illusory and the judge or juror must be allowed fair latitude to make reasonable approximations guided by judgment and practical experience.”). A seaman may be able to demonstrate the loss of earning capacity by presenting medical testimony with a permanent disability sufficient to support his position that he can no longer work as a seaman in the future. Tolar v. Kinsman Marine Transit Company, 618 F. 2d 1193, 1197 (6th Cir. 1980).
Extensive litigation has occurred regarding the recovery of non pecuniary damages under the Jones Act, which have been found to not be recoverable as general damages for injuries or deaths to seamen. Miles, 498 U.S. 19, 1991 AMC 1. Non pecuniary damages consist of compensation for loss of society, loss of consortium and punitive damages. Id.
C.Damages for Unseaworthiness Claims
A vessel owner owes a seaman the duty to provide seaworthy vessel and hence, is liable to the seaman at law for personal injuries caused by the unseaworthy condition of a vessel. It is well settled that the warranty of seaworthiness is separate and independent of any statutory or other general maritime remedies. Usner v. Luckenbach Overseas Corp., 400 U.S. 494, 498,1971 AMC 277, 280 (1971). An unseaworthiness claim and a Jones Act negligence claim overlap to a certain extent as a seaman is entitled to recover the same types of damages for an unseaworthiness claim as he is entitled to recover under the Jones Act. A seaman is not entitled to a double recovery of his damages when he demonstrates that his injuries were caused both by Jones Act negligence and an unseaworthy condition.
Under the general maritime law, a vessel owner or operator owes to every member of the crew on board the vessel a non delegable duty to keep and maintain the ship and all decks, passageways, appliances, gears, tools and equipment of the vessel in a seaworthy condition at all times. Mahnich v. Southern S.S. Co., 321 U.S. 96, 99, 1944 AMC 1, 5 (1944). The duty of seaworthiness obligates a vessel owner “to furnish a vessel and appurtenances reasonably fit for their intended use.” Mitchell v. Trawler Racer; Inc., 362 U.S. 539, 550, 1960 AMC 1503, 1512 (1960).
Due to the unique nature of the hazardous perils of the sea that seamen, longshoreman, pleasure boaters, maritime workers, and others are exposed to while working and enjoying recreational activities on or near the navigable waters of the United States, the general maritime law has evolved to provide them with rights and damages that are often different than those found on land. Despite the age of the general maritime law and its ancient foundation, it is an evolving body of law. The general maritime law can be effectively used by attorneys to benefit their injured clients, or to defend against maritime personal injury claims.