sexual assault claims
Everyone who goes to sea, whether for a living or as a passenger on vacation, accepts that there is a certain amount of risk in doing so. However, that accepted risk does not and should never apply to physical or sexual assault. Whether the perpetrator is a fellow shipmate or another passenger, shipping companies have the undeniable duty to prevent foreseeable assaults on their employees and customers. This means shipping companies have the duty to conduct background checks and mental screenings of those in their employ; cruise and ferry companies have the duty to not over serve passengers and to have procedures in place not only to prevent but investigate assaults.
Physical assaults occur quite frequently aboard commercial and recreational vessels. Commercial shipping companies rely on a seaman’s union to filter out the bad apples but the unions rarely take action against their own dues paying members. Many times reports or complaints have been previously made against a problematic seaman but no action is taken by their union and they are allowed to move from one company to the next. This has allowed predators or mentally unstable individuals to continue terrorizing their fellow crewmen. Therefore, the duty is on the shipping company to vet any employee that comes from the union hall. If the company has failed to perform their own background check, then arguably they have committed negligence and the Jones Act allows us to hold them accountable.
Moreover, the sad fact is that too many seamen and passengers have become victims of sexual assaults. Recent reports from the media and the U.S. Maritime Administration shows that incidents of sexual assault aboard U.S. Flagged merchant vessels occur quite frequently. Yet, many of these incidents go unreported because either the victim is unaware of legal channels to make a report or they fear being blacklisted by the industry for future employment.
This problem is so pervasive in the industry that there is legislation currently pending before Congress called the “Safer Seas Act.” If passed the statute of limitation in 46 U.S.C. §30106 would be extended from three to five years after the cause of action arose where claim “aris[es] out of a maritime tort for a claim of sexual harassment or sexual assault.” This extension of the statute of limitations would apply to both seamen and passangers. Hopefully congress can learn to work together in order to do its job and pass this much needed legislation by the end of 2023.
The consequences of an assault, whether physical or sexual can be devastating. A physical injury may leave you scarred or disfigured and an emotional injury could take years to process. Shame or embarrassment from even a simple physical altercation can leave you ready to quit what is a great career path. This industry should be open to all who want to work and it is not your fault if the industry has not yet learned to adequately police itself.
If you or a loved one has been assaulted while at sea call a maritime attorney to discuss your options.
There is no obligation and consultations are always confidential. Leeward Law is here to help.