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Marineros Extranjeros Lesionados En Buques de EE.UU. Tienen Derechos

Marineros extranjeros lesionados en buques de bandera estadounidense o navío que extensivamente salen de los puertos estadounidenses, a menudo se les aconseja de no tomar acción legal en las cortes estadounidenses, cuando en realidad en estos tipos de casos el marinero extranjero frecuentemente tiene la protección marítima de la Ley Jones (Jones Act).

La Corte Suprema de EE.UU. ha articulado una prueba de dos puntas para determinar si el marinero puede utilizar la Ley Jones. Estas son: (1) Si las responsabilidades del empleado contribuyen con la función de la embarcación o el cumplimiento de la misión; y (2) si el marinero tiene una conexión con la embarcación de navegación que sea sustancial en términos de su duración y su naturaleza. Claramente no está el requisito de ser ciudadano o residente estadounidense.

Ya sea la cuestión si las leyes estadounidenses o las extranjeras debiesen aplicarse a un caso de lesiones marítimas, esta se basa, entonces, en la trilogía de la Corte Suprema basada en los casos Lauritzen v Larsen, 345 EE.UU. 571 (1953); Romero v Terminal Internacional operativo Co., 358 EE.UU. 354 (1959); y Helénica Lines Ltd. v. Rhoditis, 398 EE.UU. 306 (1970). Bajo estos casos, los siguientes ocho puntos determinarán la ley applicable:

1. La lealtad nacional o domicilio del demandante;

2. El lugar del contrato;

3. La lealtad nacional del dueño del buque demandado;

4. La ley de pabellón (bandera);

5. El acceso al tribunal (forum) en el extranjero;

6. El lugar del hecho ilícito;

7. La ley del tribunal; y

8. La base de operaciones del dueño y buque demandado

Los factores anteriores no son de importancia definitiva o comparable. En general, la ley de pabellón y dónde se ubica la base de operaciones del dueño del buque tendrá más peso en la determinación. En Lauritzen, la Corte Suprema describió que la ley de pabellón tiene una “importancia fundamental” en la determinación de la ley aplicable. En Rhoditis, la Corte Suprema sostuvo que pese a la bandera griega de la nave demandada, la base de operaciones en Nueva York favorece más el uso de las leyes de Estados Unidos.

Pese a que la bandera del buque es frecuentemente de “importancia fundamental”, el hecho que los dueños de los buques estadounidenses a menudo registran sus naves afuera de los Estados Unidos con cortes percibidas de verlos más favorables (“forum shopping”), este hecho también debe tomarse en cuenta. Como la Corte Suprema en Rhoditis explicó, “la fachada de la operación debe ser considerada secundariamente, a comparación de la verdadera naturaleza de la operación y dar una mirada objetiva sobre los contactos operativos verdaderos que la nave y su dueño tienen con los Estados Unidos.”

En suma, cuando el buque sujeto alza la bandera de Estados Unidos u opera ampliamente desde los Estados Unidos, a menudo existe una plataforma sólida para afirmar que se aplique la ley de Estados Unidos y que un tribunal del mismo debería mantener la jurisdicción, no importa si el marinero es ciudadano estadounidense o de otra nación.

En muchos casos, los marineros extranjeros tienen los mismos derechos bajo la ley marítima como un ciudadano de Estados Unidos y, a menudo deben considerar llevar a cabo una acción legal en un tribunal estadounidense.

Anderson Carey & Williams (1-800- BOATLAW) ha representado a los marineros y sus familias por más de 35 años en los Estados Unidos. Con oficinas en Seattle y Bellingham, Washington y Portland, Oregón, los abogados de Anderson Carey & Williams están colectivamente admitidos para ejercer el derecho legal en Washington, Oregón, Florida, Alaska, California, Arizona y Washington DC.

 

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Foreign Seamen Injured On U.S. Vessels Have Legal Rights In United States Courts

Foreign seamen injured on U.S. flagged vessels or vessels operating extensively out of U.S. ports are too often dissuaded from pursuing an action in U.S. courts, when in such cases, the particular foreign seaman is often protected under the Jones Act and U.S. maritime law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has articulated a two-prong test to determine seaman status under the Jones Act: (1) An employee’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission; and (2) A seaman must have a connection to a vessel in navigation that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. Noticeably absent in this test is any requirement of U.S. citizenship or residency. As the Second Circuit described in Kyriakos v. Goulandris, “when Congress used the word ‘seamen’ in the Jones Act it employed a word of general application, embracing men of any nation who sail the seas. Had it wished to limit the application of the statute to seamen of American citizenship or residence, the words to effectuate the limitation were at hand.”

Despite its irrelevancy for seaman status under the Jones Act, injured foreign seamen bringing suit in U.S. courts are still often subject to motions by defendant vessel owners for dismissal on forum non conveniens grounds, which is a discretionary power that allows U.S. courts to dismiss a case when the plaintiff’s chosen forum would impose a heavy burden on the defendant or the court, and an adequate alternative forum is available (such as in the foreign plaintiff’s country of citizenship). The first step in determining whether an action should be dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds is to determine whether United States law should be applied to the case.

Focusing on this threshold question, whether United States or foreign law should apply to a maritime injury case is governed by the Supreme Court trilogy of Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571 (1953); Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354 (1959); and Hellenic Lines Ltd. v. Rhoditis, 398 U.S. 306 (1970). Under these cases, the following eight factors determine the choice of law:

  1. The allegiance or domicile of the plaintiff;
  2. The place of the contract;
  3. The allegiance of the defendant shipowner;
  4. The law of the flag;
  5. The accessibility of the foreign forum;
  6. The place of the wrongful act;
  7. The law of the forum; and
  8. The defendant shipowner’s base of operations.

The above factors are not of equal or even comparable significance. Generally the law of the flag and the defendant shipowner’s base of operations weigh most heavily in the determination. In Lauritzen, the Supreme Court described the law of the flag as of “cardinal importance” in determining applicable law. In Rhoditis, the Supreme Court held that the defendant’s New York base of operations favored U.S. law despite the ship’s Greek flag. On the other hand, the place of the alleged wrongful act, the inaccessibility of a foreign forum, and the law of the forum are seldom relevant to the choice of law analysis.

While the vessel’s flag is often of “cardinal importance,” the fact that U.S. shipowners often forum shop and register their vessels outside of the United States must also be taken into account. As the Supreme Court in Rhoditis explained, “the façade of the operation must be considered as minor, compared with the real nature of the operation and a cold objective look at the actual operational contacts that this ship and this owner have with the United States.”

In sum, when the subject vessel flies the U.S. flag or operates extensively out of the United States, there is often a strong basis for asserting that U.S. law applies and that an U.S. court should retain jurisdiction, no matter whether the seaman is an U.S. citizen or a citizen of another nation. Despite limited exceptions to the restriction on recovery by non-U.S. citizens and non-resident aliens for incidents in waters outside of the U.S. involving the exploration, development, or production of offshore mineral or energy resources set forth in 46 U.S.C.A. section 30105, foreign seamen injured on U.S. flagged vessels or vessels operating out of U.S. ports, in many instances, have the same rights under U.S. maritime law as an U.S. citizen and should often consider pursuing an action in an U.S. court.

Most importantly, foreign seamen and their families should not be dissuaded against filing suit in the United States without first consulting with an experienced maritime attorney.

Nicholas J. Neidzwski is an associate in the Bellingham and Seattle offices of Anderson Carey & Williams, reachable via phone at 1-800-BOATLAW or via e-mail at nick@boatlaw.com  Anderson Carey & Williams has represented seamen and their families for over thirty-five years throughout the United States. With offices in Seattle and Bellingham, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, the attorneys of Anderson Carey & Williams are collectively admitted to practice in Washington, Oregon, Florida, Alaska, California, Arizona, and Washington D.C.

 

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F/V KATMAI Sinks — Seven Crewmembers Perish

Another tragedy has struck the Alaska fishing fleet. The KATMAI, a 93-foot head and gut fishing vessel capsized and sank in the Aleutian Islands early in the morning on Wednesday, October 22. It now appears that only four of the KATMAI’s eleven crewmembers survived.

The last communication from the KATMAI was an e-mail reporting incursion of water into the lazerette, followed by loss of steering. Shortly thereafter, the vessel foundered in the trough of 20-foot seas and capsized, casting her crew into the 43 degree waters of the North Pacific.

The Coast Guard has begun hearings in Anchorage to investigate the KATMAI sinking. There will be an opportunity to determine the cause of this unspeakable catastrophe. For now, all of us associated with the maritime industry in the Pacific Northwest can only convey our condolences to the families and friends of those who have perished.

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