What is a Hitch?

The term hitch is a very important one pertaining to the work of mariners. As such, it’s relevant for the exploration of Jones Act and other maritime laws.

What is a Hitch?

The term hitch refers to the amount of time that a seaman or a marine worker spends offshore on the job. In essence, a hitch is a period of service – from the time that the worker departs on the vessel to the time that they get back to shore.

Some see the hitch as an offshore work schedule. Because of this specific, it may play a very important role whenever a person submits a claim for negligence under the Jones Act. There aren’t strict criteria about how long a hitch could last, and this term applies to sea work and being a part of the navy. A fisherman may have a four-week hitch before going back to shore. A member of the navy could have a much longer hitch that lasts a couple of years.

Why is the Term Relevant?

The length of the hitch is one of the factors that will be examined whenever a Jones Act claim is being submitted.

The dates of offshore service will usually be verified whenever an accident occurs at sea. This way, it can be established whether the person qualified as a seaman at the time and whether the provisions of Jones Act apply to the specific case.

In addition, the length of service and the rate of pay that a seaman and an employer have agreed to will be used to determine an eventual compensation in the case of a debilitating injury or permanent disability.

A lawsuit will also focus on the length of shifts and whether an employer has overworked the individuals in their crew. In such instances, the information about the hitch, working hours and payments will once again have to be examined to come up with an adequate ruling.

Maritime Law Applications

Whether a worker spends time on a ship, a rig or another offshore facility, the term hitch will apply to the length of the period during which they’ve been engaged in professional activities away from the shore.

There’s a reason why different terms are used for a shift on a regular job and the amount of time that offshore workers spend away from the land.

A regular shift is a one that typically lasts from 9 am to 5 pm. On an offshore vessel, a worker is exposed to completely different conditions. There are environmental factors and other dangers that mariners will have to be aware of all the time. This is the main reason why the hitch is different from a typical shift. It involves longer working hours and additional hazards.

A worker’s hitch doesn’t always entail a sufficiently long rest period. Very often, sailors will have to be alert 24 hours to ensure the safety of the entire crew and to get the job done.

As far as the maritime law is concerned, the hitch proves that the respective person has been on the rig or the vessel at the time when the accident occurred.

The Rights of Seamen under the Jones Act

For a person to qualify as a seaman and to be entitled to compensation under the act, a few conditions will have to be met.

The first requirement is for the person to be onboard a vessel that is in navigation. The vessel doesn’t have to be moving at the specific time when the accident occurs for the statute to apply. Being on the vessel, however, indicates the start of the respective worker’s hitch.

To qualify as seamen, workers should also spend a significant amount of their employment time on a boat, barge, cruise ship, dredge, a freighter, a jack-up rig, a semi-submersible rig or any other installation/facility that qualifies as a vessel in navigation.

Finally, the worker has to contribute to the purpose of the vessel on which they’re employed. There’s no need for the individual to be involved in the vessel’s navigation per se but any kind of shipboard work will qualify.

Real-Life Examples of How Hitch Applies

Understanding the application of the term will be easiest when real-life examples of mariner injuries are examined.

Here’s an interesting example of an instance in which the Jones Act does not apply. Seaman David Meloche joined the navy and was sent off to Iraq. Eventually, he returned from the mission without sustaining injuries.

Meloche, however, suffered an accident involving a navy bus. As a result of the accident, one of his legs had to be amputated. This is a situation in which the mariner protection statute doesn’t apply. The accident did not occur offshore, meaning that Meloche wasn’t on his hitch at the time when the crash occurred.

Another interesting situation involved a gas company worker. In October 2016, a case reached the Texas Supreme Court. A gas and oil company claimed that it couldn’t be held accountable under the Jones Act for the injuries that a worker sustained.

Kelvin Gold was employed by Helix Energy Solutions Inc. and was on a Helix ship that was in dry-dock in Singapore. The man was on his 28-day hitch and was performing repair work when he got injured. Thus, it’s not a question that the man was involved in professional activities at the time of the accident. Helix Energy Solutions, however, challenged his claim on the basis o the fact that the ship wasn’t navigable at the time of the accident.

Originally, a trial court agreed with the company. Later on, the Fourteenth Court of Appeal reversed the decision. According to Gold, he was hired and treated as a seaman. As a result, the injury provisions listed in the act had to apply to his situation. The Supreme Court ruled out that since the vessel was out of navigation at the time when the injury occurred, Gold wasn’t entitled to seaman compensation, regardless of the fact he was on a documented hitch.

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