Over 80 Combined Years Of Maritime Law Experience

Understanding the term ‘ordinary vessel’

On Behalf of | Jan 29, 2024 | Firm News

The term “ordinary vessel” may seem to be lacking great significance, but in cases involving injuries suffered by individuals who work on ships or boats, it can have enormous importance.

The Jones Act is a federal statute enacted to allow injured maritime workers to recover damages from their employers beyond the limited maritime damages of “maintenance and cure.” Maintenance and cure are traditional maritime terms for living expenses and medical expenses, and they are roughly analogous to living expenses and medical expenses available under most workers’ compensation laws.

If, however, an individual is injured while spending at least 30% of their time on an “ordinary vessel,” that person is covered by the Jones Act and can commence a lawsuit to recover all damages caused by the shipowner’s negligence.

Recent case

The term “ordinary vessel” arose recently in a Jones Act claim by a woman who suffered an injury while working in the galley of a training ship owned by a state-operated maritime academy. After working for a while in the shoreside cafeteria operated by the academy, the woman earned her merchant marine credentials and began going on regular cruises on the training ship in 2009. In 2016, she was injured while working in the galley.

The Jones Act claim

When the woman commenced a lawsuit under the Jones Act to recover damages for her injuries, the maritime academy argued that the woman was not a “seaman” under the Jones Act because she had not spent about 30% of her time in the service of a vessel.

The court denied the owner’s motion because she held that the training ship was not an “ordinary vessel.” The 30% rule did not apply, the court ruled, because the training ship was not an ordinary vessel.

The ship left port only once or twice in a year, as contrasted with merchant other ships that spent almost the entire year at sea. The woman was held to have a substantial connection to the training ship in terms of duration and nature. She was therefore deemed a seaman and allowed to proceed with her Jones Act case.