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Vessel Status and Maritime Law

In any offshore injury case, you will need to determine whether the injured worker qualifies for seaman status. If so, he or she will have remedies not available to most people who get hurt on the job, such as a claim against the seaman’s employer and the right to maintenance and cure.

However, for a worker to be a seaman, you must be assigned to a vessel or a fleet of vessels in navigation. This raises the question: what crafts qualify for vessel status?

How Does the Law Define “Vessel”?

Congress has defined a vessel as “every description of water craft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” This language was the subject of disagreement and litigation over the years before the United States Supreme Court provided some guidance in Stewart v. Dutra Construction Company.

Now, the key issue is now whether the structure’s potential use as a means of transportation on the water is a “practical possibility” (which would qualify it as a “vessel”) or a “theoretical possibility” (which would not). In other words, is the vessel capable of serving as a means of marine transportation?

What Types of Crafts Qualify as Vessels?

It is not necessarily required fir a vessel to be able to move on its own power. This opens the door for a wide range of structures to be satisfy the tests for vessel status.

Examples of vessels include jack-up rigs, semi-submersible drilling rigs, dredges, derrick boats, rafts, and jet skis. On the other hand, floating docks, fixed platforms, and other similar structures are not considered vessels under the law.

What About Vessels that are Being Constructed or are Undergoing Repairs?

The Fifth Circuit does not treat a new ship while it is still under construction and has not completed sea trials as a vessel. Similarly, if a vessel is removed from navigation, it will no longer be treated as a vessel. It is also possible that a vessel undergoing major repairs can lose its vessel status.

Why Else Does it Matter if You’re Injured on a Vessel?

Other than qualifying for seaman status, there are several legal remedies that can be determined by whether you are injured on a vessel. For example, whether you are entitled to maintenance and cure will depend upon whether you were injured while in service of a vessel. Additionally, a claim under Section 905(b) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act is dependent on your injury being the result of vessel negligence.

Call a Louisiana Offshore Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been injured in an offshore or maritime accident, the laws can be very complicated. The Mahone Firm is here to help you understand your rights. Call (504) 564-7342 for a free consultation with a New Orleans maritime lawyer.


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