United States maritime lawyer

July 01, 2011 @ 02:28 PM -- by

As a United States maritime lawyer, I am fascinated by the origins of maritime law. The Osceola, 189 U.S. 158 (1903), a United States Supreme court case decided in 1903 is seen today as a paramount case where the Supreme Court determined the central rules maritime personal injury law. The Osceola was bound for the port of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Under the mate’s supervision, the crew, including the injured party, Patrick Shea, proceeded to execute the Captain’s orders. A derrick was put in place to raise the gangway. Once the gangway was swung clear of the ship, the front end was grabbed by the wind. The force of the wind pushed the gangway and pulled the derrick over, which fell and injured Mr. Shea.

The Supreme Court made four landmark pronouncements: (1) Seamen had to receive maintenance and cure if they became ill or were "wounded in the service of the ship." (2) Seamen could recover damages if they were injured because of the unseaworthiness of the vessel. (3) "(E)xcept perhaps for the master", crew members were seen as fellow servants and thus were not allowed to recover for injuries because of the crew’s negligence. (4) A seaman could not get damages in tort for injuries due to crew negligence, but can receive maintenance and cure whether they were injured by negligence or an accident.

The Osceola case is truly THE case in United States maritime personal injury law. Indeed, the Supreme Court had not given us any distinctive type of United States maritime personal injury law prior to this case. Justice Henry Billings Brown, who wrote the opinion, surveyed English, French, Italian, Belgian, Dutch, Brazilian, Chilean, Argentine, Portuguese, Spanish, and German law for his decision.

As such, seamen did not have a negligence claim against his employer because of a co-employee’s negligence, but he did have some powerful remedies. In 1908, though, Congress passed the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which gave interstate railroad workers a negligence claim against his or her employer. Then, in 1920, Congress, with the Jones Act, extended the FELA provisions to negligence claims by seamen against their employers.

The FELA provision on causation is applicable to Jones Act cases. Thus, an employer is responsible for injuries caused "in whole or in part" by its negligence. Thus, a Jones Act plaintiff has a "featherweight" burden of proof. This causation standard was just upheld by the United States Supreme Court on June 23, 2011 in CSX Transportation, Inc. v. McBride.

Contact United States maritime lawyer Scott Nelson if you or a loved one has been injured and needs assistance.