Last week, the news media reported to the public on a daily basis about the conditions onboard Carnival’s disabled cruise ship Triumph. Fortunately, an unpleasant situation did not become a deadly one.
The attention reminds us of the hazards involved in shipping. Carnival, a wealthy cruise line catering to passengers, not goods, and placid waters, not the violent oceans, encountered crippling mechanical failure. Consider the risks faced by those who work on ocean-going tankers and cargo ships, who cross the most perilous seas in treacherous weather. From time immemorial, the maritime industry has been a dangerous occupation. Seamen face extremes of weather, working around heavy equipment prone to deterioration and failure from the salt water, with uncertain footing. Then, when injury strikes, they are completely dependent upon the care of shipping companies, who often place profits above protection of employees.
Little wonder that, for centuries, the law has shown extra consideration for the seaman; at least until recently. On a federal level, the United States Supreme Court has affirmed the principle that punitive damages can be imposed upon a ship owner who neglects its duties to injured workers to provide “maintenance” (funds for food and board) and “cure” (medical expenses).
Sadly, Texas has instead shown hostility to those who risk their lives to transport goods across the globe. The Legislature has tinkered with venue provisions to hinder the decisions of where an injured seaman can file suit. And the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that, when a maritime employer failed to provide meaningful medical care beyond cursory examinations by the company doctor, the worker was not entitled to damages for the harm it inflicted upon him.
Perhaps when those whose cruise was unfortunately interrupted return to their daily lives, they will carry with them a greater understanding of the dangers regularly endured by seamen, and disapprove policymakers (in the Legislature and on the bench) who would erode their legal protections.