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October 29th, 2009

Albany Fishing Boat Murder: Does the Jones Act Cover Assaults?

A recent news report about a commercial fishing vessel co-owner, who was strangled to death by his partner on a boat trip, focuses attention on the issue of assault on a Jones Act vessel.

Earlier this year, Albany-resident John Adkins and Erin Dean Rieman brought a 48-foot fishing vessel together. In July, the two left for a trip to the Port of Ilwaco in Washington for boat repairs. Rieman claimed that Adkins disappeared after he went off on land.  He was arrested this week, and charged with second degree murder and first degree theft in Adkins’ disappearance.

That arrest came after a deckhand on the fishing vessel, Walter Bremmer, came clean about what had really happened on the boat.   According to Bremmer, he saw Reiman beating up Adkins one night, smashing his head on the window and throwing him down the stairs.  Bremmer told investigators that Rieman later used an extension cord to strangle Adkins to death.

Crimes, violent assaults, physical violence, beatings, even rapes – none of these are unheard of on a vessel. In fact, before the Jones Act came along, being physically harassed by other crewmembers or captains was almost an accepted part of a sailor’s life. These sailors had no recourse to compensation, and could not hope to hold their crewmembers, captains or the boat owners accountable in any way for any injuries.

Unseaworthiness Claims May Include Assaults on a Vessel

Protection from assault by fellow crewmembers, masters or captains is included in the doctrine of seaworthiness of a vessel. Simply put, a seaworthy vessel must be reasonably fit to operate. “Reasonably fit” here will include competent crewmembers and a safe environment on the vessel. Under the Jones Act therefore, a seaman may be eligible to file a claim for unseaworthiness against the vessel owner, in case of an assault or rape.

Not every injury or death on a vessel will qualify for an unseaworthiness claim, and therefore, it is important that a seaman consult with a maritime attorney before making any decision.

The maritime lawyers at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers are trial attorneys representing crew members of cargo ships, commercial fishing vessel crew members, barge and tugboat operators, cruise liner crews, offshore rig workers, jack-up rig workers, tanker and freighter crews and other workers who qualify for Jones Act seaman status, in injury and wrongful death litigation.

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