Understanding Seamen’s Rights After Vessel Capsizing and Sinking Accidents

Maritime Injuries Dec 21, 2021

Under ordinary circumstances, a vessel should never capsize or sink—especially with crewmembers or other seamen on board. Yet, capsizing and sinking accidents don’t just happen, but they happen frequently. So, why is this the case? When a vessel capsizes or sinks, what company is responsible? Most importantly, what are injured workers’ and families’ legal rights?

Why Vessels Capsize and Sink (When They Shouldn’t)

Vessels capsize and sink for a variety of different reasons. While these are occasionally freak accidents that involve sudden storms or rogue waves, there are often much simpler and more straightforward explanations.

In fact, in most cases, when a vessel capsizes or sinks, it is because of an issue with the vessel itself. Human error is a common factor as well. Some examples of the most common causes of capsizing and sinking accidents include:

  • Failure to Account for Weather or Sea Conditions – These days, there is almost no excuse for a vessel heading into a storm or into sea conditions that it is not equipped to handle. Captains and crewmembers should chart the vessel’s course using up-to-date satellite and radar imagery, and they should alter the course when necessary to avoid unsafe conditions on the water. On the same token, companies must avoid forcing captains to steer their vessels into hazardous conditions in an effort to avoid delays.
  • Collisions with Other Vessels or Stationary Objects – Collisions with other vessels or stationary objects such as day markers and underwater pipelines can cause vessels to take on water, capsize and ultimately sink. Captains must steer their vessels away from hazardous objects; and, when they fail to do so, their employers can be held legally accountable.
  • Running Around – In addition to collisions, running aground is also an all-too-common factor in capsizing and sinking accidents. Ships can run aground due to poor navigation or due to being pushed into shallow waters by winds, waves, or currents.
  • Electrical and Mechanical Malfunctions – Electrical and mechanical malfunctions can leave captains with no control over their vessels. Without the ability to steer away from other vessels, stationary objects, the seabed, and tall waves, captains may be unable to prevent their vessels from capsizing and sinking.
  • Taking On Water – Vessels of all sizes can take on water for a variety of different reasons. From hull damage caused by collisions to broken bilge pumps, issues that cause vessels to take on the water can quickly lead to scary, dangerous, and potentially deadly scenarios on the open ocean.
  • Cargo Loading Errors – Cargo loading errors can lead to capsizing and sinking accidents in two primary ways. If a vessel is overloaded (or overloaded on one side), this can upset the vessel’s balance and cause it to roll. Likewise, if a vessel’s cargo is not properly secured, shifting caused by the movement of the water can cause the vessel to roll as well.

What are Seamen’s Rights After a Capsizing or Sinking Accident?

Whether a vessel capsizes or sinks offshore, in a harbor or river, or at the port, seamen injured in the accident have clear legal rights. Minimally, seamen onboard the vessel can seek maintenance and cure benefits under the Jones Act. However, if the vessel owner is responsible for the accident (as will often be the case), then seamen injured in the accident can seek additional compensation based on unseaworthiness or Jones Act negligence.

What about Families Who Lose Loved Ones?

Families who lose loved ones in capsizing and sinking accidents have clear legal rights as well, and the opportunity to recover death benefits. In cases involving maritime drownings, families can file claims under the Jones Act, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), and potentially under other maritime laws. Companies that are responsible for fatal accidents at sea deserve to be held fully accountable, and family members can – and should – hire an experienced maritime lawyer to help them pursue all claims they have available.

Regardless of the circumstances involved, if you suffered injuries or a loved one was killed in a capsizing or sinking accident involving a container ship, ferry, barge, cruise ship, or any other type of vessel, you owe it to yourself to seek legal help. The costs of these accidents can last a lifetime, and you should not have to bear the financial burdens of a company’s negligence or its decision to prioritize profits over safety.

Speak with a Lawyer about Your Legal Rights After a Capsizing or Sinking Accident

At the Willis Law Firm, we bring decades of experience to helping seamen and families recover just compensation for capsizing and sinking accidents. To speak with a lawyer about your legal rights for free, call 800-468-4878 or request a complimentary consultation online today. 

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