Injured In A Maritime Accident?

The maritime industry in the U.S. encompasses a number of different occupations, including those at ports and offshore maritime facilities (oil platforms) and those aboard ships (longshoreman, fisherman) and other vessels. As a result, maritime workers face a variety of potential maritime injuries, both at sea and on land.

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maritime accident Lawsuits

The maritime industry in the U.S. encompasses a number of different occupations, including those at ports and offshore maritime facilities and those aboard ships and other vessels. As a result, maritime workers face a variety of potential maritime injuries, both at sea and on land.

Most people think of disasters aboard ships out to sea when they hear the term “maritime accident,” and many maritime accidents do involve seamen injured aboard unseaworthy vessels. However, the maritime industry is a massive industry that encompasses many other occupations, job sites, and accidents, including those occurring at ports, harbors, and other shoreside and offshore maritime facilities. As such, the term “maritime accident” covers a wide variety of injuries or fatalities sustained by crewmembers and workers at sea or on land, including accidents on oil rigs, commercial fishing accidents, accidents on barges or cargo ships, and accidents in shipyards, as well as passengers injured or killed in accidents on cruise ships or other passenger vessels. If you have been injured or if someone you love has been killed in a maritime accident on or near the water, our consumer advocates at the Consumer Justice Foundation can help put you in touch with an experienced maritime accident attorney. Contact us today to discuss your options.

Maritime Accident Injuries and Deaths

Seamen and other workers in the maritime industry have some of the most treacherous jobs in the world. Conditions at sea can be hazardous and unpredictable, and when maritime accidents occur, the vessel and crew are often far from emergency assistance, which can have disastrous consequences for injured crewmembers and workers aboard those vessels. Commercial fishing, in particular, poses a unique risk of fatality, injury or illness for workers and is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fatality rate for the water transportation industry is nearly five times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers. 

The unique hazards and challenges presented by the marine environment can affect those on the water as well as those at shipyards and marine terminals and in other marine industries near the water. Many offshore workers put their health and safety on the line just by showing up to work each day, especially offshore oil and gas workers responsible for drilling and extracting mineral resources from the seabed. And longshoremen required to move shipping containers and other heavy loads can suffer serious injury or death as a result of another person’s careless or reckless actions on the job. Even passengers and passersby can sustain injuries in a maritime accident through no fault of their own, if someone else is negligent or makes a mistake.

Explosions aboard docked ships, exposure to hazardous chemicals in shipyards, and collisions between vessels out to sea are all examples of incidents that fall under the umbrella of maritime accidents. The following are some examples of injuries that workers, crewmembers and others can suffer in a maritime accident on or near the water:

  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Head injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Hypothermia
  • Drowning or near-drowning
  • Respiratory illness
  • Repetitive use injuries
  • Loss of limbs
  • Wrongful death

Who is at Risk for Maritime Accidents?

Similar to construction workers, maritime workers, longshoremen and offshore workers work in an inherently dangerous environment consisting of heavy machinery, noisy engines, electrical equipment, and potentially hazardous materials, all of which can increase the risk of on-the-job injury or death. In the marine environment, however, there is the added risk of vessel disasters, severe weather, water immersion, living and working within a restricted space, and other potentially dangerous conditions that are unique to the maritime industry. Ports, docks, piers, terminals, and other areas where vessels are loaded and unloaded also tend to be bustling with activity, which creates a high-risk environment where workplace accidents are more likely to occur. As a result of these potential job site hazards, the following maritime workers may face a risk of serious injury or death just by showing up to work and doing their jobs:

  • Seamen
  • Deck hands
  • Service staff
  • Dock workers
  • Tug boat operators
  • Maintenance workers
  • Longshore workers
  • Cruise ship workers
  • Offshore oil and gas workers
  • Commercial fishermen
  • Shipbuilders
  • Harbor workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Workers in the marine transportation industry
  • Aquaculture workers
  • Commercial divers

Examples of Maritime Accidents

Because the maritime industry encompasses such a wide variety of occupations and job sites, there are many different types of accidents that can be designated as maritime accidents. 

According to Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations (46 CFR § 4.03-1), a maritime accident is “(a) Any casualty or accident involving any vessel other than a public vessel that –

(1) Occurs upon the navigable waters of the United States, its territories or possessions;

(2) Involves any United States vessel wherever such casualty or accident occurs; or

(3) With respect to a foreign tank vessel operating in waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, including the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), involves significant harm to the environment or material damage affecting the seaworthiness or efficiency of the vessel.” 

The following are some common types of maritime accidents in the U.S.:

  • Electrocutions
  • Crane and winch accidents
  • Conveyor belt accidents
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals or fumes
  • Falls overboard
  • Collisions with other vessels or permanent structures
  • Diving support accidents
  • Cruise ship accidents
  • Struck-by accidents
  • Commercial fishing accidents
  • Accidents in shipyards
  • Accidents on barges or cargo ships
  • Oil rig accidents
  • Fires and explosions
  • Vehicle accidents
  • Dock and pier accidents
  • Slip, trip and fall accidents
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures

Notable Maritime Accident Cases in the U.S. 

August 2020 – During dredging operations in Corpus Christi, Texas, a dredge vessel strikes a submerged liquid propane pipeline. The resulting gas geyser catches fire and the vessel and surrounding shoreline are consumed by fire. Four crew members are killed in the accident and six of the surviving crew members suffer burn injuries. The U.S. Coast Guard declares the accident a major marine casualty.

January 2020 – A fire aboard a houseboat docked at the Jackson County Park Marina in Scottsboro, Alabama spreads to neighboring vessels and the dock. Seventeen people are trapped on the burning dock and eight are killed trying to escape. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates ship and marine accidents and other civil transportation accidents, determines that the fire aboard the houseboat originated in the vicinity of the vessel’s electrical panel. It is also determined that the County and marina’s limited fire safety practices contributed to the severity of the fire and the devastating loss of life.

September 2019 – A liftboat overturns while attempting to conduct work alongside a platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Of the three crew members who abandon the vessel and are rescued, one suffers minor injuries. The NTSB determines that the probable cause of the accident is the company’s inadequate preload procedure, which did not account for crane movements or the planned loads to be lifted, resulting in a “punch through” of one of the vessel’s three legs.

September 2019 – A 75-foot passenger vessel anchored in Platts Harbor, California catches fire and sinks, killing 33 passengers and one crew member and injuring two of the five surviving crew members. The cause of the accident is determined to be the failure of the company operating the vessel to provide adequate oversight of the vessel and crewmember operations. The NTSB reports that inadequate emergency escape arrangements from the vessel’s bunkroom contributed to the high loss of life in the accident. 

July 2019 – An explosion aboard a moored barge serving as a platform for pumping fish cargo ashore from fishing vessels in Whittier, Alaska sinks the vessel, killing one crewmember. The cause of the explosion is attributed to the ignition of gasoline vapor from a fuel cargo tank, which became entrapped within the vessel’s pontoon compartment.

June 2019 – Three injuries are reported in a collision on the Lower Mississippi River between the bulk carrier Century Queen and the towing vessel Kaytlin Marie. The probable cause of the accident is determined to be a lack of early and effective communication between the two vessels to confirm a passing arrangement.

May 2019 – The bridge team aboard the product tanker American Liberty loses control of the vessel in the fast current of the Lower Mississippi River and makes contact with several moored vessels, barges and wharfs as it travels down the river. Four injuries are reported in the accident, which is attributed to poor bridge resource management and miscommunication between the pilot and the master.

March 2019 – A towing vessel is pushing six barges on the Lower Mississippi River when the lead barges of the tow contact barges moored at a shipyard, breaking free 11 barges. Of the 17 shipyard workers aboard the barges, 10 sustained minor injuries in the accident. According to the NTSB, the probable cause of the accident was “the captain’s decision to continue the training of an apprentice mate/steersman while navigating a challenging river bend downbound and meeting upbound traffic in high-water conditions.”

July 2018 – A 33-foot amphibious passenger vessel operated by Ripley Entertainment Inc. sinks during a storm on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. Of the 31 people aboard the vessel, 17 are killed and seven are transported to a local hospital. According to the NTSB, several hours before the vessel began the lake tour, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area, followed by a severe thunderstorm warning. The probable cause of the accident is attributed to Ripley Entertainment’s continued operation of lake tours despite the severe weather warnings. 

June 2017 – A collision between the US Navy Destroyer Fitzgerald and the Philippine-flag container ship ACX Crystal kills seven Fitzgerald crewmembers and seriously injures three others. The NTSB reports that the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the Fitzgerald’s bridge team to take early and substantial action to avoid the collision, among other contributing factors. 

Common Causes of Maritime Accidents

Just like any other kind of accident, there are some maritime accidents that are inevitable, caused by unavoidable factors like an unexpected storm at sea. However, many maritime accidents are caused at least in part by negligence or carelessness. In fact, there are many types of accidents that cause serious injury or death to maritime workers that could have been avoided had someone not acted or failed to act in a certain way. The following are some common causes of maritime accidents related to negligence:

  • Improper training or lack of experience
  • Worker fatigue
  • Drug or alcohol use 
  • Navigational and steering errors
  • Captains giving improper orders
  • Failure to acknowledge severe weather warnings
  • Unseaworthy vessels
  • Insufficient vessel maintenance
  • Failure to make necessary equipment upgrades
  • Defective or poorly designed maritime equipment or machinery 
  • Lack of safety gear or personal protective equipment

Maritime Accident Prevention

Preventing Tragic Maritime Accidents

Minimizing the risk of serious or even fatal work-related accidents in the maritime industry requires a multi-pronged approach. Proper safety procedures, skill, knowledge, training and routine equipment maintenance are all necessary ingredients for a safe and productive marine environment, and many common maritime injuries can be avoided altogether if workers are competent and properly trained, have adequate personal protective equipment, and are afforded a safe working environment free of known health and safety hazards, defective equipment, and other potentially dangerous conditions. Unfortunately, owners, operators, employers and other personnel in the maritime industry don’t always abide by these simple safety measures, which increases the risk of marine accidents. Sadly, maritime workers who suffer serious injuries on the job may be unable to return to work temporarily or possibly even indefinitely, and many experience depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their injuries. 

Pursuing Compensation for Maritime Accident Injuries

Who is Liable for Maritime Accidents?

Maritime accidents happen, but they usually happen for a reason, often because of someone else’s negligence or intentional misconduct, or a combination of the two. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes the unique risks associated with maritime work, which is why there are safety guidelines in place that are specifically related to maritime jobs and reducing the risk of accidents in the maritime industry. These guidelines are meant to ensure that maritime workers are afforded a safe working environment and receive proper training so they can perform their job duties as safely and efficiently as possible. 

Unfortunately, not all employers have their employees’ best interests in mind. Too often, maritime employers cut corners to save time or money, which puts their workers at greater risk of injury. In fact, because the maritime industry is rife with danger, any time an employer, vessel owner or equipment manufacturer is negligent, the consequences can be devastating for workers. Negligence claims are the most common type of personal injury claim stemming from maritime accidents, and in order to successfully secure compensation for your injuries through a negligence claim, you must satisfy the four key elements required to prove negligence:

  • Duty – The allegedly negligent person (the defendant) owed you a duty of care
  • Breach – The defendant breached that duty by failing to exercise reasonable care to avoid causing you injury
  • Causation – Your injuries were caused by the defendant’s breach of duty
  • Damages – You suffered damages as a result of your injuries
Maritime Employers

Inadequate training is a major concern for workers in the maritime industry. Not only do maritime employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for workers, they are also required to ensure that their workers are properly trained and supervised. When a maritime worker is injured in an accident caused by an inexperienced or poorly trained crewmember, the injured worker may have grounds to sue the employer for negligence. Employers may also be liable for damages in maritime accidents caused by defective equipment or machinery that they failed to ensure was in proper working order. 

Ship and Vessel Owners

The owner of a vessel is responsible for ensuring that the vessel is seaworthy, meaning it is fit or safe for a sea voyage. When a maritime accident occurs because a vessel is unseaworthy, or unfit for a sea voyage, the vessel owner may be liable for damages for failing to ensure that the ship’s equipment was safe to use and in proper working order. In this type of situation, injured workers can pursue compensation for their injuries by filing an “unseaworthiness” claim against the ship or vessel owner. This type of third party claim may also apply in cases where a worker develops a serious illness after being exposed to hazardous products, such as asbestos or certain solvents or lubricants, aboard the owner’s ship. Even non-employee passengers can pursue a legal claim against a ship or vessel owner under the common law doctrine of unseaworthiness for injuries caused by an unseaworthy vessel. 

Equipment Manufacturers

All too often, maritime accidents are caused by defective, poorly designed or malfunctioning marine products or equipment. Many maritime workers work with loading cranes, forklifts, winches, conveyor belts, generators, electrical systems, and other types of equipment on a daily basis. This equipment can pose a threat of serious or potentially life-threatening injury if it malfunctions during use or has serious flaws in its design, construction or composition. General maritime law recognizes the right of maritime workers injured as a result of faulty equipment to hold the equipment manufacturer liable for damages in a product liability lawsuit, so long as the injury took place on navigable waters while maritime-related work was being done. If a maritime employer is aware of a defect in a piece of equipment and allows workers to continue using the equipment anyway, and an accident or injury results from the use of the defective equipment, the employer may also be liable. 

Legal Rights of Injured Maritime Workers

The majority of workers in the U.S. are protected by workers’ compensation, which is a type of insurance most employers are required to carry to protect their employees in the event of a workplace injury or accident. Workers’ compensation provides crucial benefits for medical expenses and lost wages to injured workers and the loved ones of workers killed in fatal jobsite accidents. Because maritime workers work in high-risk environments with dangerous equipment, often a long way from emergency care, and are therefore more prone to serious work-related injuries, they have access to a separate benefit scheme called maritime workers’ compensation, which provides compensation to injured maritime workers. 

There are two main types of maritime workers in the U.S. and the category maritime workers fall under determines what type of compensation they are entitled to if they are injured on the job. First, there are seamen, which includes any maritime worker working on a ship or boat that is considered “in navigation,” meaning the vessel is afloat, in operation, capable of moving, and on navigable waters. This includes crewmembers working on a fishing boat carrying just the working crew, a captain of a cruise ship carrying thousands of passengers, and every qualifying seaman in between. It does not apply to workers on docks or oil rig workers working on structures permanently attached to the ocean floor. These workers would fall under the second category of maritime worker, which includes all other workers who work on or near the water and do not meet the specific criteria of a seaman. 

Maritime Workers’ Compensation for Seamen

Maritime workers who qualify as seamen are not entitled to the same kind of workers’ compensation benefits other U.S. workers are permitted to collect under state or federal law. Instead, when seamen are injured on the job, federal law provides three separate avenues for pursuing compensation and damages for their work-related injuries. This includes:

  • Filing a lawsuit against their employer under the federal Jones Act,
  • Filing a lawsuit against the owner of the vessel under the Federal Maritime Doctrine of Unseaworthiness, or
  • Pursuing “Maintenance and Cure” from their employer for room and board, food, medical expenses, and other expenses during their recovery period, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
What is the Jones Act?

There are important legal protections in place for seamen who are injured or killed on the job. One of those protections is the injured worker’s right to sue his or her employer for negligence. This right is preserved by the Jones Act, which is a federal law passed in the 1920s to help injured seamen recover damages in the event of a workplace accident. Under the Jones Act, maritime employers are required to provide seamen with a reasonably safe work environment and keep the vessel the seaman is working on in a reasonably safe condition. When an employer fails to do so and a seaman is injured as a result, the injured seaman can sue the employer for damages. The Jones Act does not require injured seamen to prove that the employer knew about the unsafe condition that caused the injury; they must only prove that their injury occurred as a result of the unsafe condition. The following are some examples of employer negligence that may result in a seaman pursuing a legal claim under the Jones Act.

  • Sailing in extreme weather conditions 
  • Hiring unqualified crewmembers
  • Failing to provide adequate medical care
  • Failing to follow or enforce safety rules and regulations
  • Failing to provide proper safety training
  • Supplying improper or defective equipment for the job
  • Failing to adequately supervise crewmembers
Workers’ Compensation for Other Maritime Workers

Other maritime workers who do not meet the criteria for seamen are covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act for injured workers. This federal law provides a type of workers’ compensation for maritime workers who are injured while working on or near the water, including longshoremen, harbor workers, dock workers and workers in shipyards or shipping terminals. Under the Longshore Act, injured maritime workers are entitled to disability benefits and compensation for medical care related to their work injury, as well as vocational rehabilitation if their injury prevents them from returning to their previous job. The surviving family members of maritime workers killed in workplace accidents are entitled to survivor benefits if the work injury causes or contributes to the worker’s death.

Status and Situs Tests for Workers’ Comp

In order to qualify for compensation under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the injured worker must pass the status test and the situs test. The status test has to do with the nature of the work the employee performed for the employer, while the situs test has to do with the location where the employee worked for the employer. To pass the status test and receive benefits, some portion of the injured employee’s work must have included maritime duties directly related to the water or marine transport. This includes longshoremen and other maritime workers who build ships, make repairs, or load and unload vessels, as well as mechanics who repair vehicles used to carry shipping containers to and from the ships. To pass the situs test, the injured worker must have worked on, near, or adjacent to navigable waters. Because shipyards and shipping terminals tend to be fairly large, most shipyards located up to a mile away from the water are deemed “adjacent” for the purposes of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

How a Maritime Accident Lawsuit Can Help

Seeking compensation for injuries resulting from a maritime accident is not easy. Maritime law can be complex and confusing, and liability for maritime accidents caused by negligence or defective marine equipment is not always as straightforward as a regular personal injury or product liability claim. Even workers’ compensation is different for maritime workers. Like the construction industry and other industries with high worker injury and fatality rates, there are risks that workers in the maritime industry face on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean seamen and other maritime workers aren’t entitled to the same workplace safety guarantees as other U.S. workers. 

Unfortunately, not all workers injured in maritime accidents fully understand their rights under maritime law, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage when seeking fair and timely compensation for their injuries. In some cases, workers may no longer be capable of performing the same type of work as before their injury, which can result in a significant financial hardship. And the most serious maritime injuries may result in the worker’s death, which may leave the worker’s family without their primary means of support. Depending on the specific type of claim you file, a maritime accident lawsuit can help you recover compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, pain and suffering, and disability and disfigurement, among other damages.

If you decide to pursue a lawsuit against your employer for negligence, the owner of the ship or vessel where your injuries occurred, or the manufacturer of maritime equipment or machinery that was defectively designed and caused or contributed to your injuries, you can expect a great deal of pushback from the accused person or party. That is why we always recommend hiring an experienced maritime accident attorney to help you navigate the process of filing a maritime accident lawsuit against the person or company responsible for your injuries. 

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Due to the inherently dangerous nature of the maritime industry, maritime vessel injuries, shipyard injuries, offshore injuries, oil rig injuries and other injuries sustained by seamen and other maritime workers tend to be severe. In many cases, a maritime accident lawsuit is the best way for an injured worker to recoup the full amount of compensation he or she is entitled to following an on-the-job accident in the maritime industry. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries while at sea, while in the service of a maritime vessel, or while performing other offshore or maritime duties, your first course of action should be to enlist the help of a knowledgeable maritime injury attorney. A qualified attorney can help you understand your legal rights and explain what kind of benefits or damages you may be entitled to, so you can work to recover the full amount of compensation you deserve for your injuries. 

By submitting this form, you confirm that you have read and agreed to Select Justice, LLC, LeadClient, Inc., or a law firm may contact you about their services at your above phone number even if it is on a National or State Do Not Call List. Calls / texts may employ automated dialing technology and prerecorded / artificial voice messages and email. I understand my consent is not a condition of any purchase.

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