Unseaworthiness and Product Liability

I thought I’d make the following observation for those of you who study or work on product liability issues.  The maritime equivalent of product liability is the unseaworthiness action, which is based on the vessel owner’s provision of a defective ship. (There is also a contract version of unseaworthiness.) Much like product liability, the unseaworthiness tort action evolved from nothing, to negligence, and then to strict liability, which is the current rule.  I don’t know enough about the details of what makes a ship unseaworthy to know if there are some useful analogies or insights in that doctrine for product liability, but it’s worth a look.

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3 Responses

  1. Jim Maloney says:

    “Unseaworthiness” means different things (with different burdens and standards) in different contexts. I assume you are referring to the seaman’s unseaworthiness action in the personal injury context, which arises under the general maritime law (in contrast to the Jones Act cause of action, which was statutorily created), in contrast to unseaworthiness in the COGSA or chartering context.

    I agree that there are interesting parallels between the seaman’s unseaworthiness action and the product-liability personal injury action, which, as you suggest, have both evolved in a similar way, presumably driven by an interest in protecting seamen (the “wards of the admiralty”) on the one hand and consumers on the other.

  2. Jim Maloney says:

    Let me rephrase slightly:

    “Unseaworthiness” means different things (with different burdens and standards) in different contexts. I assume you are referring to the seaman’s unseaworthiness action in the personal injury context, which arises under the general maritime law (in contrast to the Jones Act cause of action, which was statutorily created), as opposed to unseaworthiness in the COGSA or chartering context.

    I agree that there are interesting parallels between the seaman’s unseaworthiness action and the product-liability personal injury action, which, as you suggest, have both evolved in a similar way, presumably driven by an interest in protecting seamen (the “wards of the admiralty”) on the one hand and consumers on the other.

  3. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Right–the personal injury action. Sorry if I was unclear.