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By Tim Akpinar
Reprinted with permission of Work Boat - To visit WorkBoat.com, go to Commercial Vessel Links
and find Workboat Magazine at the top of the page.
Maritime law provides well-known remedies to employees who are injured in the
course of their employment. These include negligence actions under the Jones Act and
unseaworthiness actions under general maritime law.
However, there is another avenue - product liability. Product liability applies when a
claimant is injured as a result of a product that was dangerous. How a product is
deemed dangerous is outlined below.
It behooves both crewmembers and vessel owners to recognize the elements of a
product liability claim. For an injured crewmember, it may result in identifying an
equipment manufacturer or distributor as a third-party defendant. For a vessel owner,
it may point to the reason why an unseaworthiness claim arose in the first place.
In a product liability action, the injured would need to show that a piece of equipment
was defective because it did not perform its function safely as would ordinarily be
expected, or that it could have been made safer in an economic manner.
A product liability action can be based upon any of three defects:
• A product is defectively manufactured. Examples include poor metallurgy
resulting in the fracture of a winch drum, or the snapping of a steel cable under loads
that are within normal limits for its tensile strength rating.
• A product is defectively designed. Examples include failing to utilize protective
guards on rotating machinery or failing to specify waterproof containment for
electrical equipment that is subject to immersion in water.
• Failure to provide adequate warnings as to a product’s risks. Examples include
failure to warn about respiratory protection needed in the application of a highly toxic
bottom paint, or the absence of a placard that warns not to open a pressurized engine
Evidence of product liability law in our everyday lives includes Styrofoam beverage
cups that warn of their hot contents, or children’s toys that warn about the need for
adult supervision. Product liability law is also the basis for lawsuits involving SUV
rollovers, side effects of antidepressants, or catastrophic failures of automobile tires
Tim Akpinar is a Little Neck, N.Y.-based maritime attorney and former marine engineer. He can be
reached at 718-224-9824 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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