By Carlos E. Moore, Esq.
Nationwide (BlackNews.com) — Maritime or nautical workers regardless of their position are exposed daily to hazards of working offshore, on inland waters, at the docks and along the coast. The working conditions of seaman, longshoremen, harbor workers and shipyard workers are generally more dangerous than that of the typical job onshore. Injuries in these settings fall under the umbrella of maritime law and provide specific benefits and remedies that are not afforded to workers in traditional shore based jobs.
When a maritime worker is injured on the job, one of the first steps that must be taken is to determine which body of law controls – the Jones Act, the Harbor Workersâ€™ Compensation Act or general maritime law. This often comes down to two questions, are you a “seaman” and were you working aboard a “vessel”.
Seaman status does not require a worker to be assigned to an ocean going vessel in a traditional maritime capacity, but instead is determined by the job duties a claimant performs. First, a claimant must be performing or assigned duties that further the vessel’s purpose. Therefore, all members of the vessel’s crew from the captain to the cook are considered seamen for the purpose of Jones Act protection. Second, the claimant must have at least a semi-permanent connection to a vessel that is in operation. This definition extends seamen status to underwater workers and divers who work off a vessel, despite the fact that their duties are not carried out aboard the vessel.
Although the question, “What is a vessel?”, seems simple enough to answer, it is often a point of great controversy. The courts have extended vessel status beyond traditional ships, barges and boats. In 2005, theruled that the term vessel includes every type of craft or vehicle capable of being used for transport on water. This extends vessel coverage to special purpose vessels such as mobile including jack-up and semisubmersible rigs, dredges and even pontoon rafts.
Those who have been injured while working offshore, along the coast or on inland waters from Mississippi to St. Louis, should consult with an experienced maritime attorney for assistance in determining your rights under the law and which statutory scheme applies to your claim. Because maritime law is one area in which many of the details of the law are decided by judges rather than, it is important to speak with an attorney who is experienced in this area of practice and understands the nuances that are buried in these laws.