Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Seaman's Manslaughter Statute

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Title 18 Section 1115 of the U.S. Criminal Code or the Seaman's Manslaughter Statute criminalizes misconduct or negligence that result in deaths involving vessels (ships and boats) on waters in the jurisdiction of the United States. The statute exposes three groups to criminal liability:

  • ship's officers, such as captains, engineers, and pilots;
  • those having responsibility for the vessel's condition, such as owners, charterers, and inspectors; and
  • corporate management.
  • Unlike common law manslaughter, which requires a mens rea or mental state of gross negligence or heat of passion in absence of malice, this statute requires only simple negligence — a breach of duty to perform an act or omission in violation of a standard of care.

    Laws of this form date from steamboat accidents in the early 1800s. The accident need not occur on a boat, and the threshold of criminal liability is lower than in standard manslaughter cases due to the reduced mens rea requirement.

    On March 11, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit published U.S. v. Kaluza, wherein it discussed the individuals included within the statute's "other person" provision. The court determined that two "well site leaders" working on the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion were not "other person[s]." Using the ejusdem generis statutory interpretation rule, the Fifth Circuit reasoned that "well site leaders" did not have the same "common attribute" as vessel captains, engineers, and pilots (individuals who were involved in the "marine operations, maintenance, or navigation of the vessel.").


    Seaman's Manslaughter Statute Wikipedia