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Seaman Status

Court’s have continue to struggle towards a working criteria to mark the boundaries between seamen and land workers. The difference is important in regard to filing a claim for bodily injury. Those having seaman status are afforded the right to sue an employer for full tort damages which include past and future wage and related economic losses and pain and suffering. These rights arise under a federal statute known as the Jones Act 46 (USCA §30104) and under the General Maritime Law. The former allows a negligence based action, the latter an “unseaworthiness action”. Those not having seaman status are limited to compensation under a State or Federal Workers’ Compensation statute. Workers compensation statutes do not allow compensation for pain and suffering and allow only limited coverage for wage and economic losses. Other important differences between the two schemes are 1) filing dates, statutes of limitations and criteria to establish the claim.

In the recent case of Polak v. Riverside Marine Construction (2014 WL 2212017 decided May 28, 2014) the US District Court for District of Massachusetts explained the criteria to determine whether a worker was a seaman or landlubber. Riverside is a marine construction company, engaged in the business of providing “commercial and residential marine transportation and construction to the Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts waterfront communities.” It specialized “in piers, docks, floats, wharves, pile driving, landscape construction and design, seawalls, dock repairs and dock rebuilds,” as well as “in Tug and Barge Services, which include marine towing, boat and barge rentals.”

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