10 Common Injuries in Tugboat Accidents (That Are Covered Under the Jones Act)

Jones Act Jul 17, 2023

Working on a tugboat can be extremely dangerous. From the significant forces involved with tugging to the risk of being thrown overboard next to a cargo ship or in heavy marine traffic, there are numerous issues that can leave tugboat captains and crew members suffering from serious, life-altering or even life-threatening injuries.

In the vast majority of cases, these injuries are covered under the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a federal law that covers “seamen” who suffer job-related injuries. This includes captains and crew members who suffer injuries in tugboat accidents.

Examples of Tugboat Accident Injuries Covered Under the Jones Act

The Jones Act covers all types of maritime injuries—including injuries that are common in tugboat accidents. For example, tugboat captains and crew members will typically be able to file claims for common on-the-job injuries such as:

1. Rigging, Winching and Towing Injuries

Hawser lines and other lines and cables on tugboats are under an extraordinary amount of stress. Towing a cargo ship or other vessel requires immense force, and this force puts tugboat deckhands and other crew members at risk for serious injuries. Getting caught in winches and lines, getting pinned or punched by cables, and other similar types of incidents can result in severe lacerations, burns, and even loss of digits and limbs.

2. Snap-Back Injuries

Another risk for tugboat crew members who work near hawser lines is the risk of snap-back injuries. A snap-back occurs when a hawser line under tension breaks (or snaps), resulting in the snapped end flying back toward the deck at a high rate of speed. Deckhands and other crew members who are in the “snap-back zone” can suffer several types of injuries when this happens—including lacerations, burns, and disfiguring facial injuries.

3. Slip and Fall Injuries

Even if a tugboat is properly equipped with non-skid surfacing and handrails, slips and falls can still happen during towing operations and in heavy weather and sea conditions. When a tugboat is not properly equipped (as is often the case), the risks are even greater. Slips and falls are among the most common causes of injuries among tugboat captains and crew members. While these might seem like relatively minor accidents, they often aren’t—and captains and crew members who slip and fall on the job will often need extensive medical treatment followed by a prolonged period of rest and recovery.  

4. Injuries from Moving Objects

Sliding and falling objects can also present risks for everyone onboard a tugboat on the water. From concussions to foot injuries, moving objects can present several different types of risks, and they can cause injuries in several different types of scenarios. Winches, capstans, davits and other pieces of equipment that move can also present risks for serious injuries.

5. Injuries from Falling Overboard

Falling overboard is a very real concern for deckhands and other crew members on tugboats. It presents several risks, and crew members who fall overboard can suffer various types of injuries. Along with near-drowning injuries resulting from oxygen deprivation, falls overboard can also result in concussions, back injuries, injuries from getting caught in lines and injuries from getting hit by other vessels. Falls overboard are often serious accidents that have life-changing consequences.

6. Broken Bones

The forces involved in many types of tugboat accidents are more than enough to cause broken bones. Towing accidents, falls, falling objects and other types of accidents can cause broken arms, legs, ribs, collar bones and other types of fractures. Intense pain, swelling, bruising, numbness, tingling, and visibly misshapen joints and limbs are all possible signs of a fracture that may require prompt medical attention. Without prompt medical attention, broken bones can lead to long-term complications in many cases.

7. Nerve Damage

Nerves run throughout the human body. Severe lacerations, pins and pinches, burns, and other types of injuries can cause nerve damage resulting in extreme pain, loss of motor control and even paralysis. While some forms of nerve damage are treatable, nerve damage will be a permanent injury in many cases.

8. Soft Tissue Damage

Soft tissue—muscle, ligaments and tendons—is highly susceptible to suffering damage in all types of accidents. As a result, soft tissue injuries are extremely common, with some of the most common injuries including sprains, strains and tears. While some soft tissue injuries can heal with rest, surgery will be necessary in some cases. When rest is needed, returning to work too soon can not only prolong the recovery process but can increase the risk of further injury as well.

9. Back and Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI)

Back and spinal cord injuries (SCI) are both common and dangerous. They can result from all types of accidents on tugboats, and they can have consequences ranging from lower back pain to full or partial paralysis. Tugboat captains and crew members who are experiencing back pain after an accident on the job should seek treatment promptly. Limited mobility, numbness, weakness, and bowel and bladder issues are possible signs of herniated discs, vertebrae fractures and other types of SCI as well.

10. Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can result from hitting the ground, colliding with an object on deck or being thrown overboard. While concussions are by far the most common type of TBI, tugboat captains and crew members can suffer coup-contrecoup injuries, diffuse axonal injuries (DAI), and other types of TBI as well. All forms of TBI are serious injuries that require prompt medical attention—and they can lead to significant financial and non-financial costs that are recoverable under the Jones Act.

Discuss Your Tugboat Accident Injury Claim with a Jones Act Lawyer for Free

If you have suffered any type of injury in a tugboat accident, you should speak with a lawyer about your legal rights promptly. To find out if you are entitled to financial compensation under the Jones Act, call 800-468-4878 or request a free consultation online today.

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