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New York Maritime Law Blog

Is your vessel seaworthy?

Joke may often be made about the seaworthiness of a vessel, yet when it comes to safety of yourself and your fellow maritime workers (as well as the contractual promises made to clients), the condition of your boat is no laughing matter. Most in Manhattan would likely assume that a ship would not put to sea if it were not seaworthy, yet it should be remembered that ship owners and freight carriers are principally engaged in the business of commerce, and that their goals are the delivery of goods. If this goal superseded ensuring the safety of your vessel, the they open themselves up to liability. 

Yet exactly how is seaworthiness defined? It goes far beyond a boat's ability to simply remain afloat and traverse the waters it travels. According to the Dry Bulk Shipping News and Notes shared by Handybulk, seaworthiness describes the physical condition of a vessel, along with other factors such as: 

  • The competency of its crew
  • Its fuel and supply stores 
  • Its facilities and equipment required for the transport of cargo

What are some tips for first-time boaters?

Safety must be a crucial concern when boating. This is especially true for first-timers, who will lack the experience to properly deal with unexpected occurrences on the water, some of which may be highly dangerous. In order to prevent accidents from occurring, Crownline offers the following tips.

Check the weather

Nearly 300 people have fallen off cruise ships since 2000

When you sign up to take a trip on a cruise ship, you expect blue skies, calm seas, a tropical drink in your hand and a lot of rest and relaxation. No one who takes a cruise-ship vacation expects their trip to end in tragedy.

However, for nearly 300 people in the last 18 years, their adventure on a cruise ship ended when they fell overboard. In a recent investigation, the news website Quartz found that since 2000, 284 people have fallen overboard from cruise ships. An additional 41 people fell overboard from large ferries. Many of these falls resulted in serious injuries or fatalities.

The limits of maintenance and cure benefits

When those whose work involves sailing out of Manhattan's ports are injured during their voyages, their concerns typically center on three important elements: wages, maintenance and cure. One might think that an employer can argue that while a seafarer is not working that they do not deserve to be paid, federal law requires that any wages that would have been earned after their injuries occurred be paid out. This obligation to pay unearned wages continues until the voyage ends. 

The obligation to pay maintenance and cure, however, lasts longer. Per the Cornell Law School, maintenance and cure benefits are paid to seafarers to cover the medical expenses arising from work-related injuries and to meet their day-to-day expenses while they are away from work. Determining when the payments of these benefits should end may seem as simple as knowing when the seafarer returns to work. However, that is not always the case. 

What kind of hazards do commercial fishermen face?

While commercial fishing plays a vital economic role, those who fulfill these jobs face a tremendous amount of risk on a daily basis. When an accident occurs very serious injuries can happen as a result, which can either have long-term physical effects or even end in loss of life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain some of the most common risks and how fishing companies can take steps to protect their workers.

Working on the deck can prove hazardous for many fishermen. For instance, decks are often slick with water, which can lead to trips and falls. There is also a risk associated with lines and cables situated around the deck, which sometimes snap and cause severe injuries including amputations. Along with proper training of crew, new technology is also thought to be a solution to on-deck injuries, which make up approximately 12 percent of commercial fishing fatalities.

Detailing the Defense Base Act

No one in Manhattan ever anticipates getting injured when they go into work. There may be certain professions, however, where exposure to certain risks is inherent. If you work on a U.S. military installation (or are contracted with the U.S. government to provide work related to national defense), there may be a chance that your work might (at times) involve danger. If and when such danger results in an injury, who is going to help cover your expenses? Many come to see us here at Tabak Mellusi & Shisha LLP with this very question, and are often surprised by our answer. 

Injuries suffered on military bases or while employed in the national defense of the U.S. are actually covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act. An extension was added to the act in 1941 known as "the Defense Base Act." It extends the same protections afforded by the Longhshore Act, and is also regulated by the U.S. Department of Labor. According to the DOL, to be covered under the Defense Base Act, your job must fit into one of the following categories: 

  • A private employee working on a U.S. military base or installation outside of the U.S. (including any U.S. territories or possessions)
  • A public works provider (including work done in connection with national defense or war-related activities outside of the U.S.) contracted with any U.S. government agency
  • A private employee working outside the U.S. fulfilling a federally funded contract for the sale of military equipment to U.S. allies
  • A private employee working outside the U.S. for a company providing services to benefit the U.S. military 

Alcohol and boating accidents

Boating accidents have many different causes, and we will explore the link between alcohol and boating accidents in this post. Sadly, these accidents sometimes prove fatal and they are also associated with many serious injuries. If you have been involved in a boating accident and were hurt or lost someone you love, it is vital to explore all of your options. You may need to think about pursuing legal action against someone who caused a boating accident. There are many different types of boating accidents and they have many causes, but one factor is seen especially often: alcohol

When someone operates a boat while they are under the influence of alcohol, the consequences can be disastrous. Regrettably, this keeps happening and many lives are lost each year as a result of this reckless behavior. When someone operates a boat while they are drunk, it is pivotal for them to be held responsible for their actions and any suffering that has resulted from their behavior. Some people operate boats while they are barely over the legal limit, while others try to drive a boat when they are extremely drunk.

Century-old law being invoked in case against duck boat captain

While boating in New York's harbors, lakes and rivers may offer people a thrilling adventure, it also comes with certain risks that are not encountered in other scenarios. For this reason, those who engage in this activity (and especially those who offer it as a commercial service) are expected to be skilled in not only operating their crafts but also recognizing and protecting their passengers from dangerous situations. Some might argue that places a higher standard on them, yet given the dangers that the open water can present, such expectations may be warranted. 

Indeed, back in the 1800's when steamboat travel was common, federal legislation was enacted that sought to hold boat captains (and crew members) criminally culpable when passengers on their vessels died due to their negligence. The law required that prosecutors only had to prove that defendants engaged in simple negligence (as opposed to gross negligence) when prosecuting this charge (which came to be known as "seaman's manslaughter"). 

How does the Glasgow Coma Scale apply to head trauma?

Many longshoremen in New York face a risk of experiencing a serious head injury while on the job. In this case, the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is often used to assess a person’s level of consciousness after such an injury has occurred, which serves an indication of how severe any damage present truly is. Brainline.org offers the following information on the GCS and how it’s used to assess head injuries.

Head injuries evaluated using the GCS are ranked as mild, moderate, and severe. Mild injuries receive a ranking between 13 and 15, moderate injuries fall between 9 and 12, while anything 8 and under is typically considered severe. Doctors arrive at these numbers by testing the patient in three different bodily areas, which include the ability to open one’s eyes, verbal response, and motor function.

Dealing with accidents with rented watercraft

After a long, hard week of work in Manhattan, a weekend boating excursion is often in order. Yet what if you do not own a watercraft? Renting a sailboat, motorboat or Jet Ski is a popular option, yet what if you are involved in an accident when using such equipment? Who is going to help pay for or compensate you for any expenses that arise from such an incident? We here at Tabak Mellusi & Shisha LLP have seen enough of such scenarios to know that multiple options may be available to you. 

The first (and most obvious) is the accident was the fault of another boater. You would then be able to seek compensation from said boater's insurance provider. In the event that the other boater is not insured, you could potentially initiate legal action to recover funds to help pay for your expenses. 

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