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Claiming for injuries stemming from excessive work hours

Shipboard ‘rest & work hours’ is one of those (taboo) topics that has somehow avoided direct judicial confrontation. While breaches and consequent fatigue related incidents are not uncommon, owners have rarely been dragged to court over this by the seafarers or authorities. One case that stands out is William Skye v Maersk [2014], where a C/O brought suit in US for damages for negligence for injury stemming from excessive work hours (90-105 hrs/wk) & erratic sleep schedule during his time on Sealand Pride. The arduous work schedule resulted in left ventricular hypertrophy (thickening of the heart wall of left ventricle) which ended his sea career.

Skye won in the lower court but eventually lost in the appeal court. Under US’s Jones Act his claim was not cognizable as there was no physical peril involved. True, that work related stress ultimately led to a physical injury, but that was inconsequential as it was not caused by or fear of any physical impact. The underlying policy reason was that had the court allowed W.Skye to succeed then it would potentially open the flood gates for trivial lawsuits. In the court's words “compensating for his injury would potentially lead to a flood of trivial suits, the possibility of fraudulent claims ... and the specter of unlimited and unpredictable liability” because there is no way to predict what effect a stressful work environment—compared to a physical accident such as an exploding boiler—would have on any given employee".

This case should act as a reminder for owners/managers that they should not turn a Nelsonian eye towards rest hours.


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