Sieracki Lives: A Portrait of the Interplay Between Legislation and the Judicially Created General Maritime Law
61 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2022
Date Written: August 19, 2022
In American maritime law, the interplay between the courts and Congress is complex and iterative. A significant body of American admiralty law, the general maritime law, has been judicially created and developed. But Congress has also enacted a number of important statutes governing maritime commerce and the rights of maritime workers, such as the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (“LHWCA”). The back and forth between the courts and Congress in interpreting those statutes and gauging their impact on and consistency with the general maritime law is ongoing. One important area where the courts development of the general maritime law intersects with statutory regulation involves so-called “Sieracki” seamen, workers who are not seamen per se of the vessel on which they are injured but who nevertheless may sue that vessel for a breach of the warranty of unseaworthiness because they are doing the ship’s work. In 1972, Congress amended the LHWCA to deprive workers covered by that Act from availing themselves of “Sieracki” seamen status and recovering for injuries caused by unseaworthiness. But, what about workers who are not covered by the LHWCA; may they still recover from the vessel for breach of the warranty of seaworthiness? The courts are split and the analysis of the problem presents a paradigm example of the back-and-forth that occurs in admiralty between the courts and Congress. That analytical undertaking reveals that the courts holding that “Sieracki” lives have the better side of the argument.
Keywords: admiralty, torts, statutory interpretation, legislation
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