It is critical that maritime operators manage the risks that arise from COVID-19 in order to maintain operational capacity. The risks are evolving as the crisis develops, and they can affect different companies in different ways. But as discussed below, there are several common issues that every maritime company should keep in mind.
COVID-19 could give rise to new variations on traditional liability exposure under the Jones Act and the general maritime law. Vessel owners and maritime employers must use reasonable care to provide a safe work environment for their mariners. Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA guidelines) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC guidelines) have provided helpful guidance.
Testing New Hires
Before the pandemic, federal law prohibited screening of new hires and existing employee crew members for illness before beginning a voyage. New federal guidelines promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC guidelines) now allow operators to ask questions and to evaluate crew members for fevers of 100.4°F and above. Companies should consult with an employment lawyer in order to obtain more detail on the types of procedures and questions that can be asked.
Maintenance and Cure
It is well known that vessel owners have an obligation to pay maintenance and cure to mariners, traditionally referred to as seamen, who become ill or injured in service of the vessel. At the time of this writing, there are not yet any reported judicial opinions on maintenance and cure for COVID-19. We anticipate that such claims will be made if a mariner contracts COVID-19 or becomes symptomatic while in service of a vessel.
Considering the strain that is being placed on certain health care providers, vessel owners might consider updating their network of health care providers who are able to provide telemedicine services. That way, vessel owners might still be able to provide access to prompt medical care when a mariner becomes ill or injured in a way that is unrelated to COVID-19.
Courts and COVID-19
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many courts have issued emergency orders, striking trial dates, continuing civil matters, altering motion practice, and changing certain procedures for criminal cases. Remote depositions and mediations are becoming commonplace as civil litigants seek to settle cases that might have no trial date in sight. Therefore, for the most part, these orders have not adversely affected litigants’ ability to conduct discovery and move claims toward closure.
For questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact us. Please visit our COVID-19 resource page for additional information.
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