Maritime work can be hugely rewarding and lucrative, but it can also be extremely dangerous, leading to maritime accidents. There are approximately 400,000 workers employed in U.S. maritime industries, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, maritime workers are at higher risk of accidents, illness and even death than the average American worker.
There are many hazards maritime workers face that are made more dangerous due to the nature of work and life at sea, including severe weather, the use of power tools and machinery, working in restricted spaces, and isolation from society. But maritime accidents aren’t reserved exclusively for those working on the water. There are many ways in which longshore, dock and shipyard workers working at marine terminal and port operations can find themselves with a life-changing injury on the job.
Your livelihood depends on your physical ability, so if you’ve suffered a work-related injury and can no longer work, it’s critical that you understand your rights to compensation under maritime law. This is why if you’ve been involved in any type of maritime accident, you should seek legal advice from an experienced maritime attorney.
Types of Maritime Accidents
Many hazards found in marine environments can be encountered both on the water and at marine terminals and shipyards, with some maritime accidents unique to specific maritime industries.
For example, commercial fishing is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. —including the East Coast — partially driven by falls overboard, a leading cause of work-related deaths in the industry. Longshoring work involves moving containers and other heavy and often unstable loads, with the potential to cause serious injury or death if a mistake is made.
Types of maritime accidents we can help with include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Vessel disasters – When a vessel is completely compromised, authorities usually refer to the situation as a “vessel disaster.” In these cases, the ship is in danger of sinking entirely. To be sure, sinking is a risk for any ship on water, but there are some vessel types that are more prone to vessel disasters than others.
- Collisions – A collision at sea is never a situation to take lightly, though it is relatively common. Collisions between vessels (or between a vessel and a port or harbor) can cause significant hull damage and create the potential for life-threatening injuries. Collisions most often occur in busy ports and harbors, or in hectic shipping lanes during poor weather conditions.
- Falling from height – Many vessel types are much taller than they look from a distance. That height can become a hazard during slippery or tumultuous conditions that might result in a fall from height. Maritime accidents that involve falling from a gangway or catwalk, for example, can lead to significant injuries, including traumatic brain injury or spinal injuries.
- Fire – For centuries, fire has been the nemesis of any sea-going vessel. That’s still true today, as fire can cause significant and dangerous injuries on any ship. Fire on a ship can break out due to mechanical reasons or due to natural disasters. In some cases, fires occur because of the cargo being carried, crew activities (such as cooking) or because of a fuel leak. Controlling and containing a fire could mean the difference between a minor incident or a sunken ship.
- Exposure – Many vessels operate in cold or cool climates. The deck on any vessel is often slick and wet, and that can be especially dangerous as temperatures plunge. In other cases, exposure can occur when a seaman falls overboard. Hypothermia, in these incidents, can occur very quickly. Extreme cases of hypothermia can result in permanent injury or death, so it is vital for crews to take safety procedures seriously.
- Mechanical accidents – Many vessels rely on heavy machinery to accomplish their tasks. Cargo ships use sizeable cranes and forklifts. Dredging vessels require a suction apparatus or crane system setup. Trawlers require net suspension equipment. When these mechanical elements suddenly break down or do not receive required maintenance, mechanical accidents can occur. In many maritime accident cases, mechanical accidents could cause crushing injuries, brain injuries, or even loss of limbs.
- Hazardous material accidents – Most marine vessels are surrounded by hazardous materials. Even fuel, when handled improperly, can be dangerous. However, maritime accidents involving hazardous materials can go well beyond what you might expect in a ship’s engine room. Many larger vessels are commonly tasked with ferrying hazardous materials from one place to another; when those hazardous materials lose containment, injuries will likely occur. Injuries suffered from exposure to hazardous material can be long-lasting and life-threatening.
- Slips and falls – It’s entirely possible that the cause of your accident might’ve have been relatively minor. A slip and fall on the deck of a ship or in a shipyard can still have catastrophic consequences for your health. Some of those consequences may not show up immediately (such as in the case of a concussion). Other common maritime injuries may include broken bones or contusions. Slips and falls are especially common on ships because the decks of most vessels are usually quite slick, necessitating specialized equipment and foot gear to ensure crew safety.
- Vehicle accidents – Maritime accidents involving vehicles are the most frequent cause of serious and fatal injuries in shipyards. This includes longshore workers who may be struck by front-end loaders and forklifts with missing or defective safety devices, and employees being run over by trucks during unloading and transfer operations in high-traffic areas with poor visibility.
- Falls and drowning – Slips and falls can lead to both serious injuries and drowning. Improper safety procedures, unsafe working conditions, and a lack of guard rails and safety harnesses — and even safety equipment that fails — have led to catastrophic injuries and deaths. In many cases, maritime workers have fallen overboard while not wearing life vests, and defective life rings have also contributed to drowning deaths.
- Material handling accidents – Working with heavy cargo can also lead to serious and fatal injuries involving workers being struck or crushed by improperly secured or stacked loads. This includes incidents where maritime employees have been working underneath suspended containers, or cargo has toppled or tipped over.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and not a complete list of the injuries we’ve seen first from maritime workers who have come to our firm for legal help their case. No matter what injury you have sustained, get in touch for your free case evaluation so you can learn about what compensation you are legally entitled to under maritime law.
Understanding Your Rights Under Maritime Law
No matter what type of maritime accident you’ve been involved in, you may be entitled to compensation that can help pay for your medical bills and lost wages. This is critical if you are no longer able to work as a result of your injuries. If your accident resulted from your employer’s negligence, you should seek the legal representation of an experienced maritime accident attorney to hold them responsible.
If you qualify as a Jones Act seaman, you are entitled to Maintenance and Cure, which is a basic right of all seamen. If you’ve suffered a work-related injury, your employer must pay your general living and medical expenses while you are out of work recovering.
If your accident was the result of negligence, it’s your legal right to file a suit under the Jones Act and recover damages for your injury. This means you could claim:
- Lost earnings – If you are no longer able to work because of your injury, you may be able to seek damages for the earnings you have lost, are losing, and will lose as a result of your injury.
- Medical expenses – If you’ve suffered a serious maritime injury, there’s every chance your medical bills are piling up. You may be able to claim present expenses as well as anticipated future medical expenses. Claims may include costs for surgery, rehabilitation, physical therapy, mental health care, and transportation costs for receiving treatment.
- Pain and suffering – This can be broken down into physical and mental pain and suffering: The pain of your actual physical injuries, as well as the pain and suffering from scarring, disfigurement, and ongoing complications; and the mental pain and suffering, including mental anguish, stress, anxiety, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Maritime workers who’ve been involved in an accident and don’t meet the definition of “seaman” may instead qualify for benefits under a different federal law, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). In the most severe cases, maritime accidents can lead to death. Workers’ families may be entitled to compensation through a wrongful death claim against the responsible party.
If you’ve been injured in a work-related injury, dealing with your employers, doctors and others can be overwhelming, so it’s important you protect yourself by knowing your legal rights to medical treatment and compensation. If you have been questions concerning your maritime accident, the attorneys at Montagna Maritime Law can review your case and help you understand what options are available to you. Contact us today for your free case evaluation to discuss your legal options with an experienced maritime attorney, at no cost.
Talk to an Experienced Offshore Injury 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 maritime workers to settle their cases quickly. That’s why it’s important you speak to a knowledgeable maritime 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 maritime 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.