Sinking Seamen's Claims: The Perils of Arbitration to Seamen's Rights and the Second Look Doctrine's Failure to Rescue Them

Comment by Jody Schisel-Meslin

American seafarers have enjoyed protectionist legislation even before the passage of the Merchant Marine Act (Jones Act or the Act) in 1920, which grants favorable remedies to seamen for torts that result in injury. National interests and strong union leadership have built security into what was once an unstable industry. The evolution of seamen's rights since the passage of the Jones Act has ebbed and flowed but has recently strayed from some of the Act's foundations. With the increasing popularity of arbitration agreements, U.S. seamen, once comfortably secured behind the judicial protections padding their industry, have recently found themselves in uncharted territories, confronting the possibility of arguing their case in front of an independent tribunal unfamiliar with the protectionist environment found in traditional domestic proceedings. As U.S. courts have embraced the preference to compel arbitration in commercial transactions, including employment contracts for U.S. seamen, the intent of Congress to protect the U.S. marine industry and its employees has been essentially lost at sea.

This Comment will summarize how U.S. seamen working for a U.S. company could be forced to arbitrate their claims in front of an independent tribunal and what possible subsequent recourse exists in the event of an inadequate award. First, it will examine and analyze the relevant portions of the Jones Act, the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and the New York Convention, focusing on how these statutes affect U.S. seamen. Second, it will review the development of jurisprudence regarding the enforcement of arbitration agreements under the FAA and the Convention. Finally, it will analyze the so-called “second look doctrine” and the possible recourse available to U.S. seamen who have been deprived of traditional remedies by arbitrating abroad. By interpreting historical remedies available to U.S. seamen and the legislative intent behind them, this Comment will argue that the second look doctrine provides an insufficient recourse for U.S. seamen who have received inadequate arbitral awards by being subject to the New York Convention.

About the Author

J.D. candidate 2018, Tulane University Law School; B.A. 2008, Gonzaga University.


92 Tul. L. Rev. 1147 (2018)