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Barge Accident
Offshore workers working together during anchor handling job on a construction barge at oil field
Getting an attorney involved early is vital to protect key evidence and help you receive maximum compensation.

Barge Accident Attorney

Even though they often operate in freshwater environments, seamen can suffer complications in barge accidents involving a multitude of factors that lead to life-threatening injuries or fatalities. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 300 people died while working on barges between 1997 and 2006.

Technology and safety protocols have improved in recent years, but barges are still a relatively hazardous workplace. That’s why preventing accidents and injuries is one of the top priorities of most barge workers, operators, and captains. When barge accidents do occur, appropriate government agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, may investigate the circumstances of those accidents to establish a cause.

The highly skilled attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law collectively have over 50 years of experience standing up for injured maritime workers. If you or a loved one suffer from a personal injury, contact the Montagna Law personal injury lawyers at 757.622.8056 for a free consultation.

What Causes Barge Accidents to Occur?

Due to the large size of these watercraft and the heavy machinery in use every day, workers face numerous hazards working on barges. Common causes of barge accidents include:

  • Excessive speed
  • Collisions
  • Slip, trip, and fall injuries
  • Defective equipment
  • Poorly maintained equipment
  • Lack of crew training
  • Fire or explosion
  • Drowning
  • Chemical exposure
  • Wrongful death
  • Winch accidents
  • Items falling from above
  • Bad weather or other environmental factors

This, along with numerous types of operator or business negligence, can lead to injury or death.

What Are the Most Common Types of Barge Accidents?

A damaged barge ship on its side leaking oil into the water

A barge is a flat-bottomed vessel primarily tasked with the transportation of freight. Barges operate all across the U.S., primarily in shallow or freshwater environments, including ports, harbors, rivers, and so on. With over 4,000 barges operating in the United States alone, the attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law have worked with many seamen who’ve been involved in a wide variety of barge accidents. Some of the most common accidents include the following:


On a barge, the deck is located unusually near the waterline. As a result, the deck is often wet and slick, making slips and falls a common barge accident type. Proper maintenance, attire, and safety practices can cut down on the amount and severity of slips and falls, but injuries can and do happen nonetheless.


Some types of barges, known as jack-up barges, are deployed specifically for oil drilling and exploration purposes. On these vessels, fire is a heightened danger. Additionally, freight barges are often tasked with transporting flammable materials. In these cases, it’s often improperly vented flammable vapors that cause fire-related accidents.

Heavy Machinery-Related Accidents

The operation, loading, and unloading of barges require a significant amount of heavy machinery. Barge accidents can occur when this machinery suddenly breaks down or works improperly. Accidents can also occur when barge workers are performing maintenance or repairs on heavy machinery. Many barges operate with cranes or other heavy-lifting mechanics, presenting their own hazards in the event of an accident.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

A surprising type of injury on barges is carbon monoxide poisoning. The machinery used emits gas causing symptoms mimicking seasickness, but in reality, carbon monoxide is the cause. When proper alert systems are not installed, it’s easy to see why workers get hurt.

Operator Error

Types of operator errors that can occur on a barge include, but are not limited to, operator inexperience, inattention, distractions, or navigating the barge while impaired by drugs or alcohol.


Despite their size, barges do capsize. When the vessel lists to one side and cannot right itself, it’ll tip over, creating harmful conditions for everyone onboard. Causes of capsizing include human error, bad weather, shifting of cargo, too heavy cargo, collisions, grounding, flooding, and fire.


Barges are susceptible to sinking if a collision, weight problem, human error, and other conditions place the ship in harm’s way, leading to damage that causes it to sink.


Ships can crash for a number of reasons, including colliding with another watercraft or hitting something on the ground beneath the ship.

Hazardous Environment Accidents

Barges can be loaded with a wide variety of materials. In some cases, hazardous materials can cause accidents. In other cases, maritime workers may suffer from hypoxia due to working in low-oxygen environments, such as enclosed containers or spaces.

What Injuries Can Barge Workers Sustain?

a barge ship transporting cargo across the sea

Seamen involved in barge accidents can sustain a wide variety of injuries. The attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law have seen these injuries firsthand, as we’ve helped clients seek recompense and protect their legal rights to medical care and compensation for pain and suffering. Some of the most common and/or severe injuries seamen sustain in barge accidents include the following:

Traumatic Brain Injury

Barge workers suffering from hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) sometimes show clear signs of long-term brain injuries. Likewise, slips and falls can result in concussions, severe and moderate TBIs, or spinal cord injuries.


Barges often operate in freezing temperatures with chilly water — a perfect recipe for hypothermia. When a seaman falls overboard, hypothermia and frostbite are among the most pressing and life-threatening injuries.

Crushing and Pinching

Collisions and mechanical failures can both cause significant crushing and pinching injuries. In some cases, barge workers lose limbs due to these types of incidents.

Burns and Smoke Inhalation

Barge accidents involving fire can cause burns and smoke-related injuries.

This list is by no means exhaustive, as there is any number of dangers stemming from barge accidents that could manifest themselves. Safety on a barge means ensuring proper maintenance is done, and all barge workers receive adequate training for assigned tasks.

Am I Entitled to Compensation After a Barge Accident in Virginia?

If you’re hurt at work, you can seek compensation under the Jones Act. Under this law, barge workers sustaining injuries are entitled to receive compensation for daily living expenses and medical treatment in the event of an accident. This is regardless of fault or even if no one was to blame.

In other cases, workers can pursue compensation through a lawsuit. To do so, they must demonstrate employer negligence if they in some way did not maintain the requirements outlined by federal law, which include providing a reasonably safe place to work and using ordinary care in maintaining the vessel to maintain reasonable levels of safety.

When employers violate these basic requirements in any way, they can be held liable for worker injuries. Seamen can recover damages even if it’s shown the employer contributed 1% negligence to the accident or injury.

How Do I Recover Compensation From a Barge Accident Injury?

If you or a family member suffer severe injuries or financial losses from no income or high medical bills, you want to begin proceedings for compensation immediately.

1. Report Accident to Your Employer

Be sure to report the incident or illness to a supervisor as soon as possible, and fill out a detailed report outlining the event. Don’t allow your employer or anyone else to influence your wording, especially before you speak to an experienced maritime injury attorney.

2. File Your Claim Within the Statute of Limitations

Under the Jones Act, an injured seaman has three years to file a lawsuit for negligence. However, there are often exceptions in personal injury cases to the established statute of limitations. Even if you think you missed your window of opportunity, it’s a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable attorney.

3. Collect Evidence

Try to collect evidence to support your injury claim before disembarking the barge. Take photos and video, record names of crew members who witnessed the event(s), get a copy of your accident report, and keep any personal items damaged in the incident.

4. Obtain Medical Records

Consult with a healthcare provider as soon as possible. This will help facilitate your recovery. However, once immediate needs are taken care of, see your own doctor as well.

5. Hire a Barge Accident Lawyer

A maritime lawyer talking to a client

To recover compensation for serious injuries or wrongful death caused by a barge accident, speak to a Virginia barge accident attorney to get started on a personal injury case. In many instances, the insurance company of the maritime business will try to settle quickly to reduce their financial responsibility. You want to make sure the full extent of current and future financial and non-financial damages are calculated correctly.

50+ Years Getting Maritime Workers More For Their Injuries

If you or a loved one are a barge accident victim, it’s a good idea to speak to an experienced maritime law firm right away. Montagna Maritime Law’s personal injury attorneys have more than 50 years of combined experience helping workers at sea get more for their injuries. Our compassionate attorneys can help you pursue a personal injury claim to get your medical costs and other expenses paid.

To set up a free consultation with a knowledgeable Virginia barge accident attorney, call us at 757.622.8056 or fill out our online contact form. Our law office proudly serves the entire Hampton Roads area, including Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Suffolk. We also proudly serve maritime workers in Maryland and North Carolina.

Talk to an Experienced Barge Accident Attorney

Suffering an injury while at work can be a stressful, confusing, and traumatic experience for anyone. Your employer might not be making the effort you expect to ensure your well-being. Often times, employers and insurers use underhanded techniques to get barge workers to settle their cases quickly. That’s why it’s important you speak to a knowledgeable barge accident attorney who can advise you of your rights under maritime law.

If you’ve been injured on the East Coast, call the skilled attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law to talk about your case. Our attorneys offer a high level of personal attention to each and every client, combined with extensive experience in the litigation of general maritime law. As an injured barge worker who depends on your physical ability for your livelihood, it’s critical that you get the maximum compensation and benefits you’re entitled to under maritime laws for you, your family, and your health.

Award-Winning Maritime Law Firm

  • American Institute of Personal injury attorneys 10 best law firm award
  • NAOPIA Top 10 Attorney 2022 award
  • American Association of Attorney advocates Top 10 Award
  • The National Trial Lawyer Top 100
  • top 10 personal injury attorney award from Attorney and practice magazines
  • 10 best attorneys client satisfaction
  • Lawyers of distinction 2022