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Employers Must Provide Safe Place to Work, Including Third-Party Locations (Warehouse)

Seaman and fishermen do not always work aboard vessels. Sometimes a seaman’s duties require him or her to perform shore side tasks. Unfortunately, injuries do occur to seamen ashore. Well established maritime law requires that the employer must provide the mariner with a safe work environment. Over the years, courts have wrestled with the scope of this duty when the seaman’s job require him or her to work while ashore.
Recently, a Washington State Court addressed the issue. In Acosta v. Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Inc., 2009 WL 1916070, plaintiff David Acosta was employed as a fisherman aboard the F/V Siberian Sea. As part of his duties, Acosta was sent to retrieve fiber-pallets from a warehouse not owned or controlled by Acosta’s employer, Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Inc. While attempting to pick up a pallet with a forklift, Acosta realized the pallet was broken. He then proceeded to transfer the bundles of fiber by hand. During this process, the top pallet from the stack behind Acosta fell on him, causing a back injury.
Acosta then brought a Jones Act claim against Aleutian under the Jones Act and General Maritime Law. The defendant, however, asserted Acosta could not prevail in his claim because the warehouse was not owned or controlled by Aleutian. Defendant further argued that Acosta should have inspected the warehouse for unsafe conditions.
Employers often attempt to pass off blame and liability to a third party should an injury occur away from their vessel. Employers have also attempted to claim the Jones Act does not apply because the seaman was not working at sea. These defenses, however, have no legal support. The duty to provide a safe place to work may include shore facilities not owned by the employer.
The Court ultimately sided with Acosta, recognizing the law that allows a seaman to bring a claim against an employer should he or she becomes injured while working at a third-party’s location. The employer is liable if the employer “knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.” This implies that the employer has a duty of reasonable inspection to ensure the location is safe for his or her employees. Aleutian did not fulfill this duty, and may therefore be liable for the injuries Acosta sustained.
This case will hopefully persuade employers to ensure the safety of its employees wherever they work. The law office of Beard Stacey Trueb & Jacobsen, PLLC has successfully held employers accountable in numerous Jones Act cases. The maritime lawyers at Beard Stacey Trueb and Jacobsen represent injured mariners throughout the nation in claims involving the Jones Act and General Maritime Law. For any questions regarding maritime law or injuries sustained while working aboard a vessel, contact us at 206.282.3100 or visit our website at atsealawyer.com.