Are you a Sieracki Seaman?
What is a "Sieracki Seaman."? In a nutshell, if you work aboard a vessel and don't qualify for Jones Act Seaman Status and don't fall under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act; then you may qualify as a Sieracki Seaman if you performed traditional seaman's activities.
It seems only true maritime lawyers know about this type of Seaman. You may still sue you employer under unseaworthiness and general maritime law negligence. Traditionally "Sieracki Seaman" were Longshoreman injured aboard vessels. However, the 1972 Amendments to the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) excluded Longshoreman from being found "Sieracki Seaman." When I first started practicing maritime law in 1986, most maritime lawyers believed "Sieracki Seaman" to be dead.
Not so fast. The rumors of the "Sieracki Seaman" demise were a tad premature. California, Alaska and few other State Courts expressly approve of "Sieracki Seaman" claims. We have successfully brought "Sieracki Seaman" cases. There is a whole class of Seamen that are regularly advised by non-maritime lawyers that since they didn't work on a vessel for over 30% of their work time that they do not qualify for Seaman's right to sue their employer. Which, of course, may not be the case.
You may qualify as a Sieracki Seaman even if you don't work on a vessel 30% of your time. That is, if you don't qualify for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, then you may be a Sieracki Seaman.
Harbor Pilot Injuries Aboard Vessel
A ship's pilot is a person duly qualified to conduct a ship into and out of a port or in special waters and who, while in charge, has the whole conduct of the ship's navigation. A harbor pilot faces many unique hazards. First, harbor pilots or ship’s pilots have to board and disembark vessels under the worst of circumstances and situations. They constantly face unique and unknown conditions and vessels. Too often, harbor pilots are injured.
It is not uncommon for pilots to be injured on a Jacob’s ladder, accommodation ladder or combination ladder. In addition, there are a number of ways harbor pilots can be injured while aboard vessel - just like regular crew members. Pilots can be injured due to slip and falls, trip and falls, falling equipment, and the like
When this happens, you may be able to bring suit against the vessel. You may not a Jones Act seaman because you don’t have a permanent connection to the vessel. However, in California, you may qualify as a Sieracki Seaman. In the alternative, you may be able to bring a Longshore 905(b) vessel owner negligence claim under the Longshore Act or under common law. Although there are cases that say that harbor pilots can bring Jones Act claims and other cases that say they can bring Longshore 905(b) claims.
It is my take, however, that harbor pilots do not fall under Longshore jurisdiction. And, in California, they certainly qualify as Sieracki Seaman. In other States and jurisdictions, that may not be the case. However, if you are a harbor pilot or ship’s pilot injured in California, you can and should bring your action in California State Court in order to avail California law regarding Sieracki Seaman.
Whether you are a Jones Act Seaman, Sieracki Seaman or fall under the Longshore Act, if you are injured while aboard a vessel in navigable waters you have a potential maritime injury claim.
You can be a “Seaman” and not qualify as a “Jones Act Seaman”
I hear lawyers say all the time, “In order to qualify as a ‘Seaman,’ the worker has to spend 30% of their work time on the vessel.” This is only partly true. In order to qualify as a “Jones Act Seaman,” you need to spend 30% or more of your time on a vessel or identifiable fleet of vessels. However, what these lawyers (mostly non-maritime lawyers or uninformed maritime lawyers) fail to realize is that a worker cannot spend 30% of their time aboard a vessel and still qualify as what is called a "Sieracki Seaman.”
Disclaimer: Please understand these discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. This testimonial, endorsement and/or discussion does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, your particular case/ situation and/or this particular case/ situation. Thanks, Bill Turley