Employees Injured at Sea Have Different Rights Than Those Injured on Land

We speak a lot on this blog about injuries to cruise line passengers, and injuries that happen on leisure cruise ships. But injuries can also happen to employees at sea also. Employees can be those on a large cruise line, but they may also include those working on private vessels, smaller touring ships, ferries, or fishing and work boats.

Injured workers at sea have much greater protections than workers on land, subject to state law, would have. Here’s a quick rundown of how federal law differs from state law when it comes to helping employees injured at sea get recovery for their injuries.

Recovery for Negligence

Due to workers’ compensation immunity, a worker injured on the job normally can’t sue their employer for negligence under state law.

But under federal maritime law, they can. There is no immunity. Owners of ships at sea have an absolute duty to their workers to ensure the work environment is safe.

This means that a ship owner needs to make sure equipment is functioning properly, that the area is safe from unusual slip or fall hazards, and that the ship is sufficiently maintained and serviced.

Causation is Easier

Under normal state negligence law, someone who is injured must show that the negligence was a “proximate cause” of the person’s injuries. But under federal maritime law, all that needs to be proven is that the ship owner’s negligence played any part at all in the injury.

That means that even if someone else is negligent (like a crewmember, for example), if the ship owner contributed in any way—say, by failing to establish policies and procedures that, if established, would have prevented the injury that was directly caused by another crewmember—the ship owner may be held liable.

This is a very relaxed standard, making what is normally a very contested issue in negligence—causation—a much easier burden.

This relaxed burden also comes into play with negligent hire cases. For example, if a ship hires someone with a known criminal history or criminal background, and that person injures another crewmember, the injured crewmember may have a claim against the ship for negligent hiring. The ship may owe money even though it was the rogue criminal crewmember that directly caused injury.

Where to File

Generally, an employee injured due to the negligence of an employer can file an action in federal or state court. Those who are injured on land while at work are not only stuck with workers’ compensation laws, but must have their case heard in administrative courts with no jury.

Its important to remember that these protections apply to anyone working on a vessel that’s capable of navigation (sailing or cruising), even if the ship isn’t actually navigating at the time of injury. Thus a crewmember injured on a cruise ship while the ship is docked at a port still gets the protections of the federal maritime laws.

Whether you are an employee, a crewmember, or a passenger injured at sea, you want attorneys who understand the subtle differences between state and federal laws. Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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