≡ Menu

Maritime Laws

Many of New Orleans’ families have a loved one whose job requires travel in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately for these families, they do not have the same rights as those on land if that family member dies due to the negligence of his or her employer while in international waters.

One of the few positive changes that may come out of the BP oil spill is that this unfair law may be about to change.

Currently, if a family member is killed while working in international waters, the rights of the family to recover damages are governed by the federal Death on the High Seas Act. Under this law, the only individual who can sue for the wrongful death of a loved one is the spouse, and the damages that may be sought are basically limited to strictly economic damages, such as loss of future income.

Other family members, such as children or siblings, may not seek compensation, nor may the spouse seek compensation for damages such as loss of companionship. These limitations do not usually apply to individuals who suffer a wrongful death on land.

In fact, the U.S. Congress has previously amended the Death on the High Seas Act to allow families of plane crash victims over international waters to recover non-economic damages, but did not extend the same rights to the families of maritime workers.

This disparity now may finally be coming to an end. In early June, a bill entitled the Survivors Equality Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress to remedy this law. Primarily motivated by the recent deaths of BP workers while at sea, it would extend many of the same rights available on land regarding the recovering of non-economic damages to family members of those who die in international waters.

If you or a family member has been injured, or has lost a family member or spouse while working in the Gulf, was killed, please feel free to contact us at 504-581-6411 or 877-581-6411. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Many New Orleans residents have employment connected to shipping and other ocean-based activities. When a seaman suffers a personal injury while working aboard a vessel, that seaman’s ability to recover damages is governed under the Jones Act – a federal law enacted to regulate such cases. Not everyone whose employment is connected to the sea, however, is entitled to recovery under the Jones Act.

To determine whether an individual qualifies as a seaman for purposes of the Jones Act, the U.S. Supreme Court has set forth a two-part test. The first part of this test requires a determination as to “whether the employee’s duties contributed to the function of the vessel or accomplishment of its mission.” Answering this first question is usually a fairly straightforward matter. If the employee worked on the vessel in some necessary capacity, he or she would pass this first branch of the test. If not, the employee does not qualify under the Jones Act, and no further inquiry is necessary.

When the answer to this first question is “yes,” it then must be determined “whether that employee had a connection to a vessel in navigation which was substantial both in terms of duration and nature.” This second part of the test can be more difficult to answer because opinions often differ regarding what constitutes a connection that is “substantial.”

The United States Supreme Court for the Fifth Circuit held that, to qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, at least 30% of an individual’s time must be spent serving a vessel in navigation. While a lesser percentage of time may be justified under certain circumstances, this requirement bars employees who do not regularly serve upon ships from qualifying to recover damages under the Jones Act. As a result, individuals who are not regular crew members – even if they were aboard to perform work important to the functioning of the vessel – also do not qualify to recover damages under the Jones Act if injured.

If you have suffered an injury while working aboard a ship, we would be happy to speak with you. Please call us at 504-581-6411 or 855-GERTLER with any questions regarding your legal rights.