Maritime occupations are some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs a worker can hold. Given the unique nature of maritime work and its environment, accidents on the high seas can be complex and catastrophic both legally and physically. When a vessel is traveling in navigable waters and an accident happens, maritime law governs the resulting injury and death claims. American ships and some foreign-flagged vessels with a base of operations in the United States can remain subject to American maritime law. Laws that fall under this umbrella include the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the Death on the High Seas Act, and other maritime laws intended to protect seamen, merchant mariners, commercial fishermen, harbor workers, and more – as well as their families.
The Jones Act
The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – commonly known as the Jones Act – is a federal law that applies to work injury accidents occurring on the high seas and navigable waters. It also governs the relationship between a vessel’s owner and/or operator and its crew. Under the Jones Act, seamen are protected against the negligent and wrongful actions of employers that cause serious injury or death. The Jones Act allows offshore workers to bring injury claims directly against maritime employers.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
The Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal law granting workers’ compensation for injured port and/or dockworkers. The LHWCA also covers seamen working on navigable waters within the U.S. The Act ensures injured workers are properly compensated when a work-related injury requires medical care, vocational rehabilitation, or missed workdays. The LHWCA also covers survivor benefits, extending a deceased maritime worker’s benefits to their beneficiaries.
Death on the High Seas Act
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) is a federal law that provides financial compensation to the families of seamen who died on the job, beyond three nautical miles off the shore of the United States. This Act allows a civil action to be brought against those responsible for offshore wrongful death and provides compensation to surviving beneficiaries.
Types of Maritime Accidents
Maritime accidents are unique due to the physical nature of the work and the hazards the high seas come with. Accidents in open water require swift and tactful thinking, where safety training and equipment are heavily relied on. Without proper training and routine vessel maintenance, an accident’s impact can double down in terms of destruction. There are many reasons a maritime accident can occur, such as failure to maintain the vessel, improperly trained workers, navigating dangerous conditions, and more. Common types of maritime accidents can include:
- Offshore Oil Rig Accidents – such as the infamous BP Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent oil spill – have showed us that despite all of our technology and regulations, maritime employers can still fail to keep an oil rig safe. Oil rig accidents are among the most catastrophic accidents not only due to potential for loss of human life but also due to the vast environment damage they can cause as well. Often, oil rig accidents occur when employers attempt to cut costs and forego inspections, technology and equipment updates, as well as lack of training.
- Cruise Vessel Accidents put the lives of thousands at risk – including passengers and crew. As a popular travel method, hundreds of cruise ships are docked in United States ports at any given time. Cruise vessels docked in the U.S. must meet strict deadlines; and, a rush to meet schedules often leads to senseless and preventable offshore injuries.
- Commercial Fishing has had the help of reality television to showcase just how dangerous and grueling the work can be. Commercial fishing vessels come into contact with harsh weather; and, heavy equipment and machinery combined with unstable conditions can lead to severe injuries and fatal accidents, including fishermen being thrown overboard or knocked unconscious after being struck by an object.
- Tugboats are generally called in as a safety measure but can cause a maritime accident, especially when the driver has limited visibility due to the large vessel it is towing. Tugboat accidents can turn an already dire situation into a catastrophe if they are not controlled correctly.
- Large Cargo Ships and Crude Oil Tankers are used for the transportation of cargo goods and other materials. Often these types of large vessels are used to transport volatile chemicals. The safe transportation of such materials depends on the quality of storage that a vessel is equipped for. If a vessel has inadequate storage features a chemical could come in contact with a worker and/or other volatile substance leading to a deadly chemical reaction.
Who Can Be Held Liable for Offshore Injuries?
When an employer or third-party negligently operates a vessel that puts seamen in danger, they can be held liable for the resulting injuries and other damage. This includes but is not limited to maritime accidents involving:
- Commercial fishing
- Cargo ships
- Cruise ships
- Oil platforms
- Drilling and jack up rigs
- Embarking and disembarking
- Piers, docks, and other loading platforms
- Explosions and fires
- Piracy and kidnapping
Frequently Asked Questions About Maritime Accidents
What should I do after suffering a maritime injury?
After an accident at sea, you should take the following steps:
- Report the incident to your supervisor or other appropriate person on site and complete an accident or incident report
- Seek immediate medical care
- If you are able to, record a voice memo about the facts surrounding the incident so you note it while it’s fresh in your mind – you can also take pictures or video of the scene if you are able and it is safe
- Do not sign any documents given to you by your employer without letting an experienced maritime attorney review them or you may unintentionally waive your legal rights to financial compensation
- Keep good records of everything that happens, including of your medical providers and medical treatment
- Discuss your claims with a maritime lawyer
What is a Jones Act seaman?
The Jones Act is a federal law that permits injured crew members to sue their employer for financial damages after being hurt at work. If you are a seaman injured on the job due to employer negligence, you are entitled to recover lost wages, loss of earning capacity, medical bills, pain and suffering, and more. You will be able to recover maximum financial compensation for yourself and your loved ones with the help of an experienced maritime lawyer.
What is maintenance and cure?
General maritime law requires employers to cover certain costs for maritime workers who are injured while working on a vessel. This obligation typically ends once a seaman reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI). These costs are called maintenance and cure, which means:
- Maintenance refers to room and board, which means food and housing payments such as mortgage, rent, homeowners’ insurance, property taxes and utilities, among other such related items.
- Cure is the cost of all reasonable medical expenses required as a result of the workplace injury along with the costs of transportation to and from related medical visits.
Why should I hire a maritime accident lawyer?
Maritime law is a specialized field with very unique rules and procedures. It is based mainly on common law and federal statutes that most lawyers do not deal with at all. Maritime lawyers focus their practices on offshore injuries. If you are injured in a maritime setting, you need someone with understands this unique area of law and has experience successfully resolving offshore injury claims.
Houston Maritime Accident Lawyer
Houston is the proud home of one of the largest and most active shipping and cargo ports in the world. While an active maritime industry provides the Gulf Coast with many benefits and jobs, it also results in catastrophic accidents annually due to the negligence of employers. Regardless of an industry’s reputation, no worker should be subjected to hazardous conditions while simply attempting to do their job. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed while working offshore, contact the Houston maritime accident attorneys of Dax F. Garza, P.C. today to discuss your case at no cost. There is limited time to act following a Texas maritime accident, so don’t delay.