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Texas deckhand sues employer under Jones Act after back injury

When a maritime worker is hurt at sea, it is treated differently than if a construction worker is hurt on land. That's because maritime workers are protected by federal laws, including the Jones Act. The Jones Act provides that all sea vessels in operation must be seaworthy, or free from dangerous conditions such as inadequate safety equipment, defective design or improperly trained crew members.

If a maritime worker is hurt on an unseaworthy vessel, he or she may sue the employer under a strict liability theory. This means the worker only has to show that the vessel was unseaworthy and the accident occurred as a result, not that the employer knew or had reason to know of the unsafe condition. Therefore, Jones Act cases hinge on whether the vessel was, in fact, unseaworthy.

Recently, a Texas seaman filed a Jones Act lawsuit against Marine Fueling Services in Jefferson County District Court after he suffered injuries to his back while on job. The seaman said he was injured in August 2009 when he was working as a deckhand on a tug and barge.

The seaman said he was working alone to pull a large towing cable out from the water when he felt a sharp pain in his back. The injury caused the seaman to undergo multiple surgeries and required him to take significant amounts of prescription medicines, the lawsuit claims.

The seaman alleges that the vessel he was working on was unsafe and unseaworthy because he was denied adequate help and supervision while performing his job. The lawsuit also accuses the employer of negligently instructing the seaman to pull the cable without help or mechanical apparatus. The seaman is seeking all recoverable damages under the Jones Act, including medical costs and lost wages.

Source: Southeast Texas Record, "Seaman hurts back pulling cable from water, sues Marine Fueling," David Yates, Aug. 20, 2012

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