Longshore Act Lawyer Straight Talk: Lawsuits Against Vessel Owners
The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) is the federal workers compensation system for longshoreman and maritime workers whom do not qualify for seaman status. Generally, a worker that falls under the LHWCA or Longshore Act can not sue their employer if they are injured at work. Instead, they are limited to Longshore Act benefits.
Longshore workers may only bring civil lawsuits for personal injuries suffered at work against vessel owners (whom may also be their employer under some circumstances) or third parties. A third party is any person or entity whom is legally responsible for the LHWCA employee’s injuries other than their employer. This article concerns Longshore Act employees civil lawsuits against vessel owners under Section 905(b) of the LHWCA. These are called “905(b) vessel owner negligence” cases.
Duty and 905(b) Vessel Owner Negligence
The concept of “duty” is one that’s been part of negligence law for centuries. Basically, everyone owes everyone else a duty to not cause them, or put them in position to suffer harm. There are different standards of duty for different people, such as doctors, who owe a higher duty to his or her patients. The federal courts have limited vessel owner duties to LHWCA workers.
Duties Owed to LHWCA Employees By Vessel Owners
The following are the Duties Vessel Owners owe to Longshoreman in the Ninth Circuit*:
1. Turn-over duty of safe condition.
The vessel must exercise ordinary care under the circumstances to have the ship and its equipment in such condition that an expert and experienced stevedore will be able by the exercise of reasonable care to carry on its cargo operations with reasonable safety to persons and property. It relates to the condition of the vessel before it is turned over to the stevedore company.
The vessel must warn the stevedore company of any hazards on the ship or with respect to its equipment that are known to the vessel or should be known to it in the exercise of reasonable care, that would likely be encountered by the stevedore in the course of his cargo operations and that are not known by the stevedore and would not be obvious to or anticipated by him if reasonably competent in the performance of his work.
2. Active Control Duty
The vessel may be liable if it actively involves itself in the cargo operations and negligently injures a longshoreman.
The vessel may be liable if it fails to exercise due care to avoid exposing longshoremen to harm from hazards they may encounter in areas, or from equipment, under the active control of the vessel during the stevedoring operation.
3. Duty to Intervene
A vessel is at times under a duty to intervene in the stevedore’s operations and correct a dangerous condition. This duty arises when:
1) the vessel is aware of the condition,
2) the vessel should realize the condition presents an unreasonable risk of harm to the longshoremen, and
3) the vessel knows that the stevedore, as a result of an obviously improvident judgment, has failed to remedy the situation.
When the vessel should have realized the stevedore company was exposing the Longshoreman to an unreasonable risk of harm there is a duty to intervene. Some courts appear to require the vessel to have played a part in creating the condition or risk of harm.
* The Ninth Circuit applies to LHWCA workers that are injured in the following States: California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.