How Are Fishermen Protected Under Maritime Law Against Illness Like COVID-19?

Working on any type of vessel with the Covid-19 pandemic can be a challenging situation. For crew members issues such as the following may arise:

  • What happens if I get Covid-19 after working on a vessel – what are my rights?
  • What if my symptoms appear once I return home and I have to quarantine – who pays for my medical cost and my lost wages?
  • If I was on a vessel and a fellow crew member tested positive and I have not tested positive but still have to quarantine – what are my rights?

You Have Rights

Under the Jones Act and general maritime law, a maritime employee has certain rights and remedies. 

If a merchant seaman contracts Covid-19 during the course of his employment, under the law, an employer is responsible to pay the worker’s entire medical treatment related to the virus, called “cure”. Additionally, during the time the worker is recovering from the virus, the employer must pay a daily stipend called “maintenance” for the worker.

If a merchant seaman contracts Covid-19 and sustains wage loss and pain and suffering, he/she is entitled to damages if negligence and/or unseaworthiness is proved. Under the Jones Act, the employer has a duty to provide a safe place to work and can be negligent for failure to provide it. 

In regards to exposure to Covid-19, an employer can be negligent for the following:

  • failure to provide protocols to minimize risk,
  • failure to provide appropriate safety equipment and gear to protect against the spread of Covid-19,
  • failure to train crew members regarding actions necessary to prevent contracting and spreading Covid-19,
  • failure to take measures to clean vessel,
  • failure to minimize and/or avoid contamination to a crew member if any crew member displays symptoms, and/or
  • failure to take evasive action to prevent exposure to the crew by removing sick crew member or evacuating crew once Covid-19 exposure is known. 

Under general maritime law, the vessel owner has a duty to provide a seaworthy ship. A crew member who tests positive for Covid-19 is not a fit crew member nor is a vessel that is contaminated with Covid-19 fit for its intended purpose. Both conditions render a vessel unseaworthy.

More than likely, the employer and vessel owner will argue that crew member did not contract the virus on the vessel and it can be difficult to determine where the crew member was exposed to the virus. In addition, the key issue for negligence is proving if the employer took reasonable steps to protect the crew from Covid-19. 

If you have any questions, regarding Covid-19 in the maritime workforce, contact the attorneys at Latti & Anderson LLP. To schedule a confidential consultation, call 1-800-392-6072 today.

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