Maritime Law Page - Step by Step Analysis of the Elements of Negligence Law - Duty - Care
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|Maritime Law - A Detailed Analysis of the Elements of Negligence
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Maritime Law - Step by Step Analysis of a Negligent Act (or Omission of an Act)
Let's start with the very basics. The legal theory of negligence is based on four elements.
They are as follows
1. There is a legal duty - This legal duty depends upon the particular roles of the people. If
the person is a navigation officer, their legal duty is to navigate the vessel in a safe and
prudent manner while maintaining courses that keep the vessel and its passengers out of
avoidable dangers, such as reefs, storms, navigational hazards. For a junior engineering
officer on watch during an injury to a commercial diver due to start up of a pump that
should never have been touched, the duty was to operate the engine room in a safe and
3. Proximate Cause - Proximate cause means that there is a relation between the breach
of duty and any damages or injuries that arise. If a mate lets out too long a scope of anchor
chain and the vessel swings around and holes a moored barge, causing it to sink, the
correlation between the error in judging the proper scope of anchor chain, and the ensuing
damage to the hull plating of the barge is apparent. The error in judging the proper length
of chain was the proximate cause of the sinking of the barge.
Back to general information about the legal theories of Negligence and Unseaworthiness
4. Damages - Damages, or injuries form the fourth element of a cause of action based on
the legal theory of negligence. Damages, or harm suffered by the plaintiff or claimant can
be the physical damage to a ship. It can also be the injury to a member of a ship’s crew or
her passengers. There are different types of injury damages. There are economic losses.
These include things like lost wages and medical expenses. U.S. maritime law addresses
economic damages suffered by seamen by providing maintenance and cure. Maintenance
is the money a seamen is entitled to reimburse them for their living expenses. Cure is the
money to reimburse the seaman for his or her medical expenses. There are also non-
economic losses. This includes things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, or a
family’s loss of companionship or loss of consortium of the victim. The idea is that these
things are more difficult to put your finger on and so are left to the discretion of the jurors
following the arguments of the attorneys for the parties and instructions of the judge.
In the wake of the attack on the Maersk Alabama in April 2009, the world applauded the
heroism of the ship's captain who offered himself to the pirates to protect his crew. That's
why many people were surprised at allegations of negligence by some members of the
ship's crew. Read the New York Times Story .discussing the aftermath.
Closer to home, when something goes wrong during a deck officer's or engine officer's
watch and authorities board a vessel to investigate, one of the things they will be looking
for will likely be evidence of a crime, whether by intentional conduct or serious negligence.
Negligence can consist of a broad range of things... running aground and spilling
chemical cargo, colliding with another vessel in a manner that results in passenger
injuries, failing to heed weather warnings, failing to realize oily waste is being pumped
overboard are among the more commonly arising infractions. If the level of a professional
mariner's negligence is serious enough, it can trigger the threshhold for prosecution
under criminal statutes.
2. Breach of the duty - Breach of duty means the
person responsible for observing a certain standard
of care breached their obligations. Breach of duty can
arise if an officer sends a contractor into a confined
space, without first ensuring the atmosphere in that
space is not combustible, and that it contains
enough oxygen to be safe for humans to enter.
Breach of duty can mean setting up a welding where
the shower of sparks will rain down on maintenance
workers three decks below. (In Product Liability and
Strict Liablity, there is no requirement to prove a
breach of duty, but rather only that the product was