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January 2017

Crewman Seriously Injured From Fall on Icy Barge Deck Can Pursue Unseaworthiness Claim

In Seemann v. Coastal Environmental Group, Inc., 2016 WL 7015728 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 29, 2016), Johnny Seemann, a crewman aboard a self-propelled barge named the “Army I,” claimed he hurt his back and shoulder when he slipped and fell on a patch of ice and/or snow on the deck of the barge.  Among other claims, Seemann alleged the company which owned the barge but had chartered it out was nevertheless liable for the conditions aboard the barge which caused his injuries.  Seemann claimed the deck was not properly de-iced, lacked a non-skid surface, and his requests for salt or de-icing materials had gone unfulfilled.

Icy barge decks like this can be an "unseaworthy" condition under the general maritime law, entitling a Jones Act seaman to recover for his or her injuries.

An icy barge deck like this can be an “unseaworthy” condition under the general maritime law, entitling a crewmember to recover significant money damages for his or her injuries.

The Court denied the barge owner’s motion to dismiss Seemann’s unseaworthiness claim, writing:

“The Second Circuit [Court of Appeals] has held that the presence of ice on a ship’s deck may present a condition of unseaworthiness. In Oxley v. City of N.Y., 923 F.2d 22 (2d Cir. 1991), the court held that a district court’s granting of summary judgment for a defendant owner was improper where a third party had slipped on ice that had accumulated on the deck and fell on the plaintiff, causing injuries to the plaintiff. Id. at 24–26. The court stated: ‘It seems to us that [the plaintiff’s] claim of unseaworthiness also must be resolved by a jury. To prevail on this claim, [the plaintiff] need only prove that the [vessel] was insufficiently or defectively equipped, and that his injuries resulted from the unseaworthy condition of the vessel.’ Id. at 26 (citing Waldron v. Moore–McCormack Lines, Inc., 386 U.S. 724, 726, 87 S.Ct. 1410, 1412, 18 L.Ed.2d 482 (1967); Poignant v. United States, 225 F.2d 595, 596 (2d Cir. 1955)), The Oxley court specifically referred to evidence in the record that showed that the vessel was not adequately furnished with sand and that the deck heating system was inadequate. Id.”

The Court cited other decisions holding that ice or a slippery substance on deck may render a vessel unseaworthy, including conditions such as wet and melted sugar; steps which are painted and maintained so as to be excessively slippery, especially when wet; where design of the vessel may have contributed to the accumulation of ice on deck; and degreaser solvent which is left on deck and the area not cordoned-off nor warning signs posted.

The Court noted the law in this realm is essentially this: “a seaman is not absolutely entitled to a deck that is not slippery. He is absolutely entitled to a deck that is not unreasonably slippery.”


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