Geisness Law Firm - Maritime Law Overview
750 ft line

Resources :: Maritime Law Overview

Geisness Law Firm - Maritime Law Overvie

To help you understand the multiple aspects of the Maritime Laws, we are pleased to share this general outline of the Maritime Law as it relates to injuries suffered aboard ships.

People who work aboard ships (such as tow boaters, ferry workers and fisherman) are termed "seamen" by the maritime law. When injured on the job aboard a ship, a seaman does not have the option of bringing a claim under Washington's workman's compensation system as Washington State law specifically excludes seamen from the state's workman's compensation system.

Rather, when a seamen is injured he/she must bring a claim against his employer and the vessel under the Maritime Laws. These laws are called the Jones Act and the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness. If the seaman's claim is denied, and they often are, the seaman must then bring a lawsuit to protect his rights.

These lawsuits are usually brought in Federal District Court (but in the case of an injured ferry worker the case must be brought in State Court as the United States Constitution prohibits anyone from filing a lawsuit against a State in Federal Court).

Under the Jones Act and the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness a sick or injured seamen has the following rights:

  • 1. Maintenance. This is an amount of money per day, paid to the seaman to represent the room and board that he would have received on the vessel if he had not been injured. Maintenance is typically paid at the rate of $30.00 per day but union contracts often set the amount lower (some union contracts set the amount as low as $8.00 per day).
    The seaman is entitled to maintenance from the date of his injury until he either (1) returns to duty; or (2) reaches maximum medical improvement. The seaman's employer is required to pay the seaman maintenance regardless of whether it did anything wrong. For example if a seaman develops the flu while on board and cannot work for a period of time, he is still entitled to maintenance. The only time that a sick or injured seaman is not entitled to maintenance is if he is injured due to his own intoxication or if he intentionally injures himself.
  • 2. Cure. This is the cost of the sick or injured seaman's medical care. Like maintenance, cure is paid regardless of whether the employer did anything wrong. It used to be that an injured seamen was provided his/her medical care through United States Public Health Hospitals, but President Reagan closed those hospitals in the 1980s. Now, seamen receive medical care from any doctor that they choose or are referred to. All doubts as to the entitlement of cure are resolved in the seaman's favor. For example, if the seaman's doctor believes that certain treatment is needed than that treatment will be paid for by the employer. Even if the employer has the seaman examined by another doctor who disagrees with the seaman's doctor, the court will order the employer to pay the cost of the cure. A seaman is entitled to cure until he reaches maximum medical improvement.
  • 3. The Doctrine of Unseaworthiness. This is a very old common law doctrine - going back to 17th Century England. The Doctrine of Unseaworthiness entitles the seaman to recover for damages caused by the unseaworthiness of the vessel. What this means is the owner of a vessel is required to keep the vessel seaworthy which means the seaman must be provided a safe place to work. To be held responsible for injuries, the vessel owner does not need to know of the existence of the unsafe condition. For example if a mast breaks, falls and hits the seaman on the head, the vessel was unseaworthy and the seaman is entitled to recover even though the vessel owner may not have known of the unsafe condition.
  • 4. Jones Act Negligence. This is a cause of action for injured seaman created by statute (46 U.S.C. ยง688) in 1922. The Jones Act is like the Doctrine of Unseaworthiness, but is based on concepts of negligence. It allows the seaman to recover for injuries caused by the negligence of his/her coworkers or the negligence of the vessel owners.

Finally, all of these remedies are meant to be broadly construed to help seaman as they do not have a workman's compensation system to rely upon if they are injured.

We hope that this information has proved useful. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us via phone at 866-471-4074 or e-mail