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Maritime Law and Seaman’s Remedies

written by: domanconsulting • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 12/27/2008

There is no doubting that employment on sea going vessels can be hazardous. This articles touches upon remedies for seamen should they be injured whilst employed upon the seas.

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    Seaman Remedies

    It would be perfectly reasonable the first time one reads the phrase “Seaman’s Remedies”, to presume that the phrase refers to an old-wives’ tale kind of story regarding an improbable way of curing an illness or caring for an injury. After all, in days of yore, a mariner would often be away at sea for months on end and ready access to the best medicine could be limited, so the chances are that some great cough-soothing measures have been passed on down the ages. However, this is of course not what is meant by Seaman’s Remedies. In this respect, the remedies available to seamen are legal remedies under maritime law occasioned by personal injury suffered in the course of their work.

    Of course technology has changed a lot thesedays and a mariner is not the same lonely person who had no contact with the outside world till the ship touched a port, still because of situations in which a vessel might be in deep seas when some mishap occurs, there need to be measures to make good any loss suffered by a seaman during the course of duty

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    Sources of Compensation

    There are three sources of compensation available to seamen injured in the discharge of their duties which have been listed as follows


    The first is the principle of maintenance and cure. This requires a shipowner to pay for an injured seaman to be medically treated until a full recovery is made, as well as providing for their cost of living until such time as the journey is completed – even if the injured seaman has left the ship. This maintenance and cure are enshrined in law as a basic right, unless the seaman suffered injury as a result of his own negligence or premeditated malicious behaviour.


    The second source of compensation is called the doctrine of unseaworthiness, and makes the ship owner liable for any injury caused to a seaman because the ship is, in one way or another, considered “unseaworthy” – i.e. defective in such a way as to be a danger to the health and life of people on board.


    The final Seaman’s remedy for personal injury is the Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act 1920 and offered in the US courts. This is not an act provided for by common modern maritime law, but has been extrapolated from laws protecting railwaymen. The Jones Act stipulates: “Any sailor who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may … maintain an action for damages”. The law also specifies a right to trial by jury.

    The statute of limitations on a case brought under the Jones act is three years, and anyone wishing to make claim as a seaman must show that they spend 30% of their time or longer on board a ship owned or run by the defendant. Out of (hypocritically) a 40-hour working week, then, a worker must spend 12 or more hours on such a ship before they can bring a case under the Jones Act. The case must also pertain to a ship that sails a trade route between two US ports.