Have you sustained a personal injury from a maritime accident? Has this injury caused you pain and suffering and left you with unexpected expenses? Suppose you try to navigate maritime laws, deal with your employer, and negotiate with their insurance company on your own. In that case, you would face risks of exploitation, such as underpayment in a settlement offer or the complete neglect of your rights as a dredger in North Carolina. Montagna Maritime Law’s personal injury attorneys are experts in navigating the complexities of maritime law. We prove their expertise to our clients time and again. We will show the same tenacity when negotiating or litigating your case, with the goal of providing you with a desirable outcome. 

Contact us through our online form or call (877) 622-8100 today to speak with a maritime attorney.

Types of Accidents that Occur While Dredging

Dredging is a dangerous but essential activity to keep highly-trafficked waterways open for all sizes of ships. As vessels pass through waterways, they often disturb materials on the seafloor, such as sand, gravel, garbage, and other debris. These materials can accumulate over time and turn a deep waterway into one that is too shallow for many vessels to pass. Specialized ships known as dredgers remove material from the seafloor in order to make a waterway deeper. 

Numerous hazards accompany dredge workers daily, from deep and shallow draft inlets to offshore work, that can result in serious injuries.

Dredgers use a variety of heavy equipment that can dig or suck up sediment from the seafloor. Many dredgers use cranes to maneuver equipment into and out of the water. Common dredging equipment used with a crane includes suction, bucket, bucket-wheel, clamshell, and backhoe dredgers. Once the equipment has lifted the material out of the water, the ship can transport it elsewhere. Other types of dredgers use scoops or blades mounted below the vessel to move sediment, similar to how a bulldozer operates.

The nature of dredging work creates risks for many types of accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Accidents could involve operator error, physical exhaustion, or other risks, such as:

  • A crane operator error that results in a falling object hitting a worker
  • A worker becomes pinned by equipment on the ship
  • A dredger collides with a tug or other vessel
  • A dredger stirs up hazardous substances in the water or sediment
  • A dredger ruptures an underwater gas line, causing an explosion

dredge working out at sea

Injuries sustained by crew members in dredge accidents can be much more severe than other boating accidents, including:

  • Drowning
  • Slip-and-fall
  • Falling objects
  • Amputations
  • Crush injuries
  • Hypothermia or frostbite
  • Burn injuries
  • Toxic exposure that leads to skin, lung, gastrointestinal, or neurological disorders
  • Head and neck injuries
  • Back and shoulder injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal injuries
  • Joint or limb injuries
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Workers who have been injured in dredging accidents may also be entitled to non-economic damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish, and disfigurement.

Are You a Victim of an Offshore Dredging Accident?

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a dredging accident, you have legal rights. A personal injury attorney with knowledge of maritime law can advise you of your options.

What to do after you’ve been injured

You should act quickly after a dredging accident to protect your legal rights, while also making sure you receive needed care. The following steps can help you prepare a claim for dredging accident injuries:

  • Notify your employer: Giving prompt notice to your employer might be necessary to make an injury claim on your employer’s insurance coverage. Adjusters often look for any excuse to deny or reduce coverage.
    • Also, you should never sign agreements waiving your right to a jury trial for increased payments while out injured without speaking with an experienced law firm first.
  • Seek medical care: Your first obligation should be to make sure you receive any necessary medical attention. If you are able, let your doctor know that your accident was work-related.
  • Gather evidence: If possible, take pictures of your injuries and the scene of the accident. Identify any witnesses who could testify about the circumstances of the accident. Write down everything you can remember about when, where, and how the accident occurred. Save all of your medical bills and other documents that can establish the total amount of damages owed to you.
  • Contact a maritime accident attorney: You should consult with an attorney who specifically handles personal injury cases occurring at sea. Maritime accidents present different legal and factual issues than car accidents, truck accidents, or motorcycle accidents. You have specific legal rights under U.S. maritime laws.

How the Jones Act Protects North Carolina Maritime Workers

Maritime workers who have suffered injuries while working on North Carolina waterways have the right to recover damages for personal injuries. Similarly, family members of workers who lost their lives in maritime accidents may recover damages for wrongful death.

While auto accidents and other personal injury cases typically rely on state law, federal law governs dredging accidents and other injuries at sea. State workers’ compensation benefits also might not be available for dredging accident injuries. Several federal statutes allow maritime workers to recover damages for personal injuries suffered while on the job.

Jones Act

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, allows eligible offshore maritime workers to file personal injury claims and lawsuits against their employers. Workers can bring claims under the Jones Act in state or federal court in North Carolina. The statute of limitations for filing suit is three years from the date of the injury.

Workers can bring “no-fault” claims, which may result in “maintenance and cure” damages. “Maintenance” refers to weekly payments during an injured maritime worker’s recovery period. “Cure” refers to compensation for medical expenses. This type of damage is available regardless of who is at fault for the accident and injuries. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend that an employer who willfully withholds maintenance and cure benefits from an employee could be liable for punitive damages.

Maritime workers are not limited to maintenance and cure damages in certain cases. They can recover full compensation under the Jones Act through negligence claims and claims based on a vessel’s “unseaworthiness.” These claims require proof of fault.

A negligence claim typically requires a plaintiff to prove four elements:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care, either to the plaintiff or to the general public.
  • The defendant breached that duty of care.
  • The defendant’s breach was a substantial cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • The plaintiff suffered measurable injuries that require compensation.

The Jones Act specifies duties of care that maritime employers owe to their employees. Negligence claims under the Jones Act may include:

  • Reckless or grossly negligent conduct by the employer, or by other employees with the employer’s knowledge, that results in physical injuries; or
  • Unreasonably hazardous working conditions on a dredging vessel.

In common usage, the term “unseaworthy” might only apply to a vessel in such terrible condition that it cannot or should not go into the water at all. The Jones Act uses a much broader definition of “unseaworthy” to cover a wide range of acts or omissions by employers and vessel owners. Examples of “unseaworthiness” under the Jones Act might include:

  • A lack of non-slip surfaces on decks or ladder rungs
  • A lack of safety railings and other protective equipment for workers at height
  • Slip-and-fall hazards aboard the vessel
  • An inadequate number of crew members to handle dredging work safely
  • An inadequately-trained crew
  • A lack of supervision for crew members
  • A lack of safety procedures regarding the use of protective equipment
  • Working conditions that lead to worker exhaustion
  • Failure to comply with safety regulations from the Coast Guard and other government entities.

A worker whose injuries are the result of negligence may be entitled to damages from their employer. If unseaworthiness was responsible for their injuries, they may be able to recover damages from the employer or the vessel owner, depending on the circumstances.

dredge accident at sea

Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (​​OCSLA)

Not all maritime workers are entitled to bring claims under the Jones Act. It applies to workers on vessels “in navigation.” The OCSLA applies to workers on permanent or temporary stationary structures located away from shore up to 200 miles, such as oil rigs. It might cover injuries suffered by a worker on an oil rig that was caused by a dredging vessel.

Damages under the OCSLA are awarded on a “no-fault” basis. OCSLA benefits are typically greater than maintenance and cure benefits under the Jones Act. They are very similar to the benefits available under North Carolina’s workers’ compensation system, including:

  • Wage replacement or disability
  • Medical expenses
  • Rehabilitation and retraining

Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (LHWCA)

The LHWCA applies to maritime workers who do not actually go to sea but work on or near vessels, such as stevedores, shipwrights, and other dock workers. If a dredging accident causes injuries to a worker on a pier or dock, the LHWCA might allow them to recover damages.

An injured worker covered by the LHWCA can recover workers’ compensation damages, including disability, medical costs, and rehabilitation. The worker must notify their employer about the claim within thirty days of the injury, and they have one year to file a claim for benefits with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Who Qualifies Under the Jones Act? 

The Jones Act applies to seamen:

  • Who spend at least thirty percent of their work schedule aboard a U.S. vessel; and
  • Whose job duties directly relate to the operation of the vessel.

The statute defines a seaman as anyone employed aboard a vessel with three exceptions: scientific personnel, sailing school instructors, and sailing school students.

Seeking Representation in Dredging Accidents?

Dredging accident injuries require legal representation by a ​​personal injury lawyer with knowledge of maritime law and experience handling maritime injury claims. Montagna Maritime Law has helped injured workers in North Carolina for more than fifty years. They have represented seamen and other workers injured in accidents involving dredges, tugs, barges, and many other types of vessels.

What Is the Cost of a Dredge Accident Lawyer?

Speaking to a Montagna Maritime lawyer is absolutely free. You can receive a free case evaluation from a knowledgeable attorney.

Our law firm does not charge a fee unless we recover money for you through a settlement or award. If we do not settle or win your case, you will pay nothing. Our fee is a percentage of the amount we recover for you. It is impossible to offer an exact number since every case is unique. Montagna Maritime Law will work closely with you on every step of the case, making certain that you have accurate, up-to-date information.

Call Montagna Maritime for Tenacious and Empathetic Dredge Accident Representation

Montagna Maritime Law cares deeply about injured workers. For over fifty years, we have represented maritime workers on the east coast, including North Carolina, helping them recover damages for their offshore injuries. To request a free consultation, call (877) 622-8100 or complete the online contact form to speak with an experienced maritime lawyer at Montagna Maritime Law today.