International Ferry Accident Raises Questions for Washington Ferry Passengers

As a resident of Washington, there is a high chance that you have used the state ferry system to reach your destination. The recent tragedy with the sunken passenger ferry in South Korea has drawn attention to ferry vessels and passenger safety. As a passenger or crew member in Washington, it is important to know what remedies are available in the event of a ferry accidents or injury while onboard a ferry ship. Ferry passengers can pursue maritime personal injury claims against the ship owner and ferry workers can file a claim to obtain remedies available under the Jones Act.

The South Korean ferry listed and sank within two hours after the initial distress signals were sent out. 174 passengers were rescued, but only 183 bodies have been retrieved of the 476 people onboard. Recovery of the bodies is ongoing, alongside an investigation of why the ship became so unstable. Investigators have already found problems with the life rafts and the cargo three times the recommended weight onboard. Further speculation has been given to renovations done between 2012 to 2013 to the sleeping cabins that may have added to the boat's instability. The captain and crew members are being held criminally accountable for their negligent actions, but several of the emerging discoveries lend to the likelihood the vessel was unseaworthy.

Under United States maritime law, shipowners must provide a seaworthy vessel to the workers and passengers onboard. A seaworthy vessel is one made of sound structure and properly functioning mechanical systems for safe sailing. A seaworthy ship is also one fully equipped with life jackets and life boats, well-maintained interiors, and adequately stored items that are regularly used onboard. Evidence has surfaced with the sunken South Korean ferry that some of the unsafe conditions were known prior to sailing, but under U.S. law, the unseaworthy condition does not have to be known to the vessel owner to be liable to those injured onboard. Proof of negligence by the vessel owner is not required in a personal injury claim based on the unseaworthiness of the vessel.

Crew members have the additional remedies available under the Jones Act, or the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. This Federal statute was created to aid injured crew members and the deceased crew member's family members after an accident occurs. Prior to this law, only maintenance and cure, or daily living expenses and medical costs were provided to the injured. The law extended the recovery to include payments for the loss of companionship, burial or cremation costs, and future wages. To qualify for damages under the Jones Act, a ferry worker must spend greater than 30% of his or her time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters.

The established Washington ferry accident attorneys, John Merriam and Gordon Webb have over 50 years of combined experience litigating maritime personal injury claims for passengers and crew members. We understand the hardships crew members and family face as they physically recover and juggle finances, and know how important it is to have knowledgable representation to maximize the damages you deserve. If you have been injured on a ferry, contact us at one of our offices today for a free, confidential consultation at 877.800.1007.

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