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Is a seaman’s release of claims enforceable?

When accepting a personal injury settlement, the injured party must sign a release absolving the negligent party from any future injuries arising from the accident. This is also the case in the maritime industry, in which seamen face a myriad of risks and often find themselves injured as a result. Pacific Maritime Magazine explains seaman’s release of claims and whether these acts are considered enforceable.

Right to Compensation

Federal law dictates whether a seaman can be compensated for injuries he sustained while aboard a vessel, as well as whether a release of claim for a settlement can be enforced. The latter consideration is typically based on four things. First, was compensation considered adequate for the damage incurred? Next, was the extent of the injuries properly communicated to the seaman (including the outcome)? Third, was the seaman’s legal rights sufficiently communicated, and fourth, was there overreaching (meaning was the seaman taken advantage of)?  

When Releases Can Be Enforced

In once example, a release of claims was considered enforceable when a worker hurt his back and was compensated for medical expenses (including surgery). As a part of his release, he was told he was to no longer to work for the same employer, and if he did and was injured he would not be eligible for compensation. Due to an oversight performing background checks, the seaman was hired by the same company, worked aboard a vessel and was subsequently injured. The court upheld the initial settlement and refused to provide compensation for the subsequent injury.

When Releases Can’t Be Enforced

In another example, a court determined that a release of claims wasn’t unenforceable. An accident with a piece machinery led to a worker’s loss of four fingers (which the worker was responsible for). The company paid for medical care and urged that the worker not to return until he was cleared by medical staff. The seaman claimed that he was able to work and wanted to return due to financial problems and the company agreed to pay a sum of money and rehire him under the condition that he could be terminated under any circumstances. When he found he could no longer work upon return, he sued the company and was found successful since the court determined that he’d been taken advantage of.  

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