Do You Have a Claim for Sun Stroke (or Heat Stroke) Under the Jones Act?

Jones Act Oct 13, 2022

Working onboard a ship or on a platform on open water presents several risks. Along with the risk of serious injuries, these risks include the risk of harm caused by prolonged sun exposure. Many offshore workers who spend long days on deck suffer from sun-related health conditions—including sun stroke (or heat stroke) in the most serious of cases.

If you have been diagnosed with a sun stroke (or heat stroke) while working offshore, you may be entitled to financial compensation under the Jones Act. Along with maintenance and cure benefits, you may be entitled to additional compensation if your employer forced you to work in unsafe conditions. No one deserves to get hurt or sick on the job. The Jones Act provides offshore workers with clear legal rights, and you can hire a lawyer to help you seek the financial compensation you deserve.

Understanding the Risks of Sun Stroke (or Heat Stroke) for Offshore Workers

For offshore workers, it is important to understand the causes of sun stroke (or heat stroke). It is also important to be familiar with this condition’s symptoms as well as its long-term health risks and potential complications.

What Is Sun Stroke (or Heat Stroke)?

A heat stroke occurs when the body’s internal temperature rises to a dangerous level. While our normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, working all day in the heat can cause this temperature to rise. If it rises to 104 degrees or above, this can cause a heat stroke.

“Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency.” This is according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. As a result, offshore workers who suffer heat strokes need to obtain medical treatment as soon as possible. Vessel owners and operators should provide employees with access to necessary medical care—whether this means having a doctor onboard or calling the Coast Guard for transportation back to land.

What Causes Sun Stroke?

A sun stroke is simply a heat stroke caused by working under the hot sun. When spending eight hours (or more) on the deck of a vessel at sea or a fixed or floating platform, prolonged sun exposure can elevate workers’ internal body temperatures. While wearing sunscreen helps to protect the skin, it does not prevent workers’ internal body temperatures from rising. Other efforts to prevent sunburn, like wearing hats or long sleeves, can actually trap more heat inside of the body—increasing the risk of sun stroke for unsuspecting workers.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Sun Stroke?

When experiencing a sun stroke, it is important to get out of the sun immediately. This means that offshore workers (and their employers) should be aware of the typical symptoms. As listed by the Mayo Clinic, the most common symptoms of sun stroke include:

  • Strong Headache – A strong headache is often one of the first signs of a heat-related illness and an impending sun stroke.
  • Cognitive Impairments – Offshore workers who are suffering from sun stroke will often be confused, agitated or delirious. They may also begin to slur their words.
  • Hot and Dry Skin – When suffering from the effects of heat stroke, offshore workers will not be sweating profusely. Instead, their skin will be hot and dry.
  • Red Face and Skin – Along with being hot and dry, offshore workers’ skin may also turn red when they are suffering from sun stroke.
  • Rapid Breathing and Heart Rate – Rapid breathing and heart rate are also common symptoms of sun stroke. When working in the sun, offshore workers should not assume that these are simply the result of their strenuous physical activity.
  • Nausea and Vomiting – Nausea and vomiting are also signs of a potentially serious sun stroke. Here, too, offshore workers should not assume that these symptoms are the result of working on choppy water or rough seas but instead seek a diagnosis and treatment promptly.

In the most severe cases, offshore workers who are suffering from sun stroke will experience seizures or go into a coma. As noted in the quote from Johns Hopkins Medicine above, this can be a life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical intervention. While waiting for treatment, the Mayo Clinic advises cooling offshore workers “with whatever means available.” This includes going inside, removing excess clothing, spraying or showering with cold water, and applying ice packs or cold towels.

What Are the Long-Term Health Risks Associated with Sun Stroke?

While full recovery from a sun stroke is possible, offshore workers who suffer from serious heat-related illnesses can also experience long-term or permanent complications. These include long-term cognitive impairments as well as damage to the heart, liver and kidneys. As the University of Florida notes, “[h]eatstroke victims . . . have a greater frequency of developing chronic heart disease and kidney diseases later in life,” so offshore workers who suffer sun strokes won’t necessarily know the true costs of their sun exposure right away.

Understanding Your Rights Under the Jones Act Following a Sun Stroke (or Heat Stroke)

Given the potential for significant and long-term costs, it is imperative that offshore workers who suffer sun strokes (or heat strokes) get help asserting their legal rights. While the Jones Act entitles offshore workers to maintenance and cure benefits regardless of why they suffer sun strokes, offshore workers will be able to recover additional compensation in many cases. For example, if a vessel owner or employer fails to take the following types of steps to protect offshore workers, the vessel owner or employer could be fully liable for the long-term effects of a worker’s sun stroke:

  • Providing appropriate safety gear (i.e., lightweight safety gear that does not trap heat inside the body);
  • Providing adequate hydration and rest breaks in a cool location; and,
  • Not requiring workers to perform strenuous physical activity in the sun for prolonged periods.

Speak with an Attorney About Your Rights Under the Jones Act

If you need to know more about your rights under the Jones Act, we encourage you to contact us promptly. For a free and confidential consultation, call 800-468-4878 or tell us how we can reach you online now.

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