When is a Tugboat Considered “Unseaworthy”?

Tugboat Injuries Jun 14, 2017

When seeking to recover financial compensation for injuries sustained in a tugboat accident, one potential source of recovery is the tugboat’s owner. Tugboat owners have a legal obligation to maintain safe working conditions on their vessels, and when they fail to do so, maritime law states that they can be held accountable for any losses crewmembers and other workers onboard face as a result of their injuries. This is what is known as the doctrine of “unseaworthiness.”

Examples of Unseaworthy Conditions on Tugboats

In broad terms, any condition onboard a tugboat that increases workers’ risk of injury has the potential to qualify as an “unseaworthy” condition. For example, the following are all common dangers that can justify claims for compensation against tugboat owners:

  • Equipment that is worn out or in need of repair
  • Improperly-designed fixtures or equipment
  • Loose steps or railings
  • Missing rails or safety equipment
  • Unprotected openings
  • Unsafe lines, tools and machinery
  • Trip hazards on deck
  • Oily or icy conditions on deck
  • Improper lighting
  • Walking surfaces that lack anti-skid protection

However, these types of issues are not the only issues that can render a tugboat unseaworthy. The following are examples of unseaworthy conditions as well:

  • Excessive work hours – Forcing the tugboat’s captain or crewmembers to work excessively-long hours can be a form of unseaworthiness.
  • Inadequate access to safety equipment – Tugboat owners must supply those onboard with appropriate safety equipment, such as personal floatation devices, fire extinguishers and first aid kits.
  • Missing warning signs – Failure to post warning signs identifying potential risks can render a tugboat unseaworthy as well. For example, an exposed ladder or stairwell may require a warning sign to help prevent injuries from falls.
  • Too few crewmembers or inexperienced crew – If a tugboat’s crew is too small to operate the vessel safely, or if crewmembers lack the experience necessary to avoid creating dangerous situations for others onboard, these can both render the tugboat unseaworthy.
  • Unsanitary living or working conditions – Unsanitary living or working conditions, such as exposure to mold, can also support a claim for unseaworthiness if they lead to a job-related illness or injury.

As you can see, the definition of an “unseaworthy” condition is extremely broad. As a result, tugboat owners are frequently held responsible for onboard workers’ injuries. When an injury or illness results from an unseaworthy condition on the tug or barges, the injured worker is entitled to financial compensation for all of his or her injury-related losses. This includes medical bills, loss of income, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and other forms of financial and non-financial harm.

What if My Injury Isn’t the Result of an Unseaworthy Condition?

If an exhaustive investigation suggests that you do not have a claim for unseaworthiness, this does not mean that you must bear the burdens of your injury or illness on your own. The Jones Act and other maritime laws provide legal alternatives for tugboat workers to seek just compensation. Before you make any decisions about whether to seek compensation for your injury, it is critical that you speak with an experienced maritime injury attorney.

Schedule a Free Consultation at the Willis Law Firm

At the Willis Law Firm, we represent injured tugboat and barge workers nationwide in claims for just compensation. Licensed in Texas and New York, maritime lawyer David Willis has over 30 years of experience handling unseaworthiness, Jones Act and other maritime law claims. For a free, no-obligation consultation about your tugboat injury, call 1-800-GOT HURT or contact us online today.


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