Maritime Accident Laws & Compensation

Maritime Law, a large idle boat in the sea

Our Houston Maritime Lawyer Outlines What You Need to Know to Recover Compensation

Maritime jobs are among the most dangerous jobs in the world. Individuals who work on offshore oil rigs, fishing ships, barges, tugboats and other vessels are at risk for serious injuries every time they step on the job. Workers risk suffering a serious burn injury, inhaling toxic fumes, or even losing a limb in their day-to-day work activities. If you are a seaman or offshore worker who has been injured in the course of your employment, you have important legal rights. Depending upon the circumstances of your accident, you may be able to obtain financial compensation under several avenues of legal recovery, as outlined below. Don’t try to make sense of your claim alone — let a Houston maritime lawyer from our firm help.

The Jones Act

The Jones Act is a federal law that protects offshore workers and seamen who are injured in the course of their employment. When a seaman is injured due to the negligence of his or her employer or another employee, the seaman has the right to file a cause of action against the employer under the Jones Act. In these types of cases, the employee has a much lower burden of proof – the employee only needs to show the slightest degree of negligence on the part of the employer to prevail in the case. This means that an employer can be held liable for almost any unsafe condition, no matter how small, on the ship or vessel. For instance, if you slip on a grease spill on deck, are injured by a piece of equipment that was not properly maintained, or if your employer fails to adequately train or supervise your crew members, you will have the right to seek financial compensation for your injuries from your employer.

The Unseaworthiness Doctrine

The owners of ships and vessels have an absolute duty to provide a seaworthy vessel to their crew. Therefore, if the vessel or any equipment on the vessel you are working on is not fit for its intended use and you are injured, you have the right to recover damages from the vessel owner. Unseaworthy conditions include:

  • Spills and other slipping hazards
  • Broken or missing steps or ladders
  • Equipment that is improperly designed, inadequately maintained or worn out
  • Lack of warning signs for dangerous conditions
  • Improperly trained and/or unsupervised crew
  • Insufficient safety devices and life-saving equipment

Maintenance and Cure

Seamen and other maritime workers who are injured on the job are entitled to receive maintenance and cure payments from their employers. Maintenance payments are designed to cover your daily costs for living on land while you are recovering from your condition. Cure payments are compensation for the medical care you need to properly treat your illness or injuries. You have the right to receive maintenance and cure payments regardless of who was at fault for your injuries. You do not have to prove that your employer was negligent in order to collect your maintenance and cure benefits.

Lawsuits Against Third Parties

Employers and vessel owners are not the only parties who can be held liable for injuries. Under general maritime law, you may also have the right to recover compensation from third parties who are at fault for your injuries. For instance, depending upon the specific circumstances surrounding your accident, you may be able to file a negligence claim against certain third party defendants, such as:

  • Product or Equipment Manufacturers
  • Equipment Suppliers and Distributors
  • Other Contractors On board a Ship or Offshore Platform
  • Maintenance and Repair Companies

Common Maritime Equipment Accidents

Commercial fishing boats, cargo ships and other vessels all have extensive amounts of specialized equipment onboard. From inadequate maintenance and defects to negligent operation, various issues can lead to equipment-related accidents and injuries. With this in mind, some of the most common types of maritime accidents include:

Conveyor Belt Accidents

Conveyor belts speed the process of loading or unloading a ship’s cargo. They are also used in commercial fishing operations, cruise ship kitchens and various other applications. But, while conveyor belts can increase efficiency, they can also present serious injury risks for crewmembers.

One of the most common (and most dangerous) types of conveyor belt accidents involves getting pulled into the conveyor belt’s driveshaft or other moving components. These maritime accidents can result in loss of digits and limbs, and they can be fatal in some cases. In many cases, these accidents happen when workers’ clothing gets caught in the conveyor belt, twisting tightly and leaving them with no way to escape severe harm.

Crane Accidents

Crane accidents can involve equipment onboard a vessel or fixed cranes at shipping terminals. They can arise from a variety of issues—ranging from collisions with booms and cargo loads to falls and electrocutions.

Injuries from maritime crane accidents can range from mild to severe. In some cases, crewmembers will escape with minor injuries that only require basic first aid. In others, however, crewmembers can suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBI), spinal cord injuries (SCI), and other injuries with life-altering or life-threatening effects.  

Falling Equipment and Materials

Falling equipment is a risk for crewmembers in all occupations. In cabins and below deck, equipment can shift due to heavy seas and fall onto unsuspecting workers. Above deck, various factors can cause equipment and materials to fall. Crewmembers struck by falling equipment and materials can suffer injuries ranging from concussions to broken bones, and they can face recovery periods ranging from days to years.

As with other types of maritime or offshore accidents, when you get struck by falling equipment or materials on the job, you do not need to be able to prove what happened in order to file a successful claim. The Jones Act, LHWCA, OCSLA and other workers’ compensation statutes pay benefits on a “no fault” basis. But, if you can prove fault, you may be able to recover significantly more for your injuries. So, it will be important for you to write down as many details as you can remember to share with your Texas maritime lawyer.

Fish Processing Equipment Accidents

Working with fish processing equipment presents risks for deckhands, freezer workers, quality controllers and other crewmembers. These risks include the risk of injuries from coworkers’ mistakes, inadequate access to safety equipment, and equipment malfunctions. Additionally, crewmembers who work in fish processing often work long hours; and, as a result, fatigue is a common factor in these accidents as well.

From conveyor belts to chamber freezers and plate freezers, all types of equipment used in fish processing can be dangerous when proper safety and maintenance procedures are not followed. Unfortunately, these are common issues onboard commercial fishing vessels, and many crewmembers suffer from maritime accidents that could (and should) have been avoided.

Ladder Accidents

Ladder accidents are among the leading causes of job-related injuries on land. At sea, climbing a ladder and working high above the deck can be even more dangerous, as waves and swells increase the risk that workers will suddenly lose their balance and fall.

In addition to falls, ladder accidents can also involve coworkers dropping tools, equipment and materials from overhead. Falling ladders can cause serious injuries as well. Falling objects are another leading cause of job-related injuries on the sea and on land.

Plate Freezer Accidents

Designed to quickly freeze fish and store them at temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero, plate freezers serve an essential purpose on commercial fishing vessels. But, they also present severe injury risks for workers. Frostbite, burns, hypothermia, and injuries from falls and collisions are all very real concerns—and they are all much more common than they should be.

Crewmembers who spend their days lifting heavy blocks of frozen fish into and out of plate freezers can suffer repetitive stress injuries (RSI) as well. Injuries to the lower back, knees, hips and elbows are all common. While the Jones Act and other laws cover these types of injuries, proving your right to just compensation for an RSI can present particular challenges.

Trawl Winch Accidents

Trawl winches exert an extreme amount of force as they relentlessly pull nets full of fish and other seafood from the ocean. If a deckhand or other crewmember gets caught in a trawler winch, the consequences can be devastating. Inexperience, distractions, loose clothing, and various other issues can all lead to trawler winch accidents. Regardless of the circumstances involved, injured maritime workers and their families can (and should) consult with our experienced Texas marine attorney about their right to just compensation.

A Houston Maritime Lawyer Will Help You Understand Your Legal Rights

It is important to understand that even if you are not a seaman or offshore worker, you may have the right to receive compensation under other maritime laws and legal theories. For example, if you work on a port, dock or terminal, you may be entitled to benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (LHWCA).

The Willis Law Firm has over three decades of experience advising workers and other individuals who have been injured in activities on or near the water. We understand the myriad of laws and rules that govern maritime accidents and injuries. An experienced Houston maritime lawyer at our firm will guide you through the process, carefully explaining your rights every step of the way.

You can also contact our firm 24/7 to discuss your situation with a knowledgeable Texas marine attorney. The Willis Law Firm offers free, completely confidential consultations to individuals and family members who are dealing with the aftermath of a maritime accident. You can reach us today by completing our online contact form or by calling 1-800-468-4878.

Our Lawyers in Houston Will Protect You From Employer Retaliation After a Maritime Accident Claim

Many seamen worry that if their employer finds out they have spoken with a Houston maritime lawyer, they will be fired. When you are injured in a maritime accident you should not be afraid to discuss your accident with an attorney. At the Willis Law Firm, we offer free initial consultations, and everything you share with us will be held in the strictest confidence even if you decide not to hire us. If your employer is threatening your job or trying to convince you not to speak with a Texas marine injury lawyer, this means you cannot trust your employer to do the right thing. In these situations, you need to speak with an experienced Texas maritime lawyer as soon as possible. Your legal counsel will explain your options and take the appropriate steps to protect your legal rights.

When a maritime worker is dismissed for hiring an attorney or filing a legal claim against an employer, the worker may have the right to recover financial compensation for his losses. Wrongfully terminating an employee who is protected under state and federal statutes is against the law and employers who retaliate against an injured employee for taking legal action can be subject to serious ramifications.

If you are worried that your employer may fire you for seeking out professional legal advice or filing a lawsuit under the Jones Act or other maritime laws, you should talk with a Houston maritime attorney who can address your concerns and explain your legal rights. For instance, if you were injured while working on a ship, barge, fishing boat, jack-up rig or other vessel and are classified as a seaman under the Jones Act, you will be entitled to receive maintenance and cure benefits from your employer. You may also have the right to file a negligence lawsuit against your employer if employer negligence played a part in causing your injuries.

FAQS for a Houston Maritime Lawyer

Our maritime injury lawyers often get various questions from individuals who have been injured from maritime-related work. At Willis Law Firm, our team of Houston maritime attorneys protect injured workers and put our clients first.  Below is some helpful information in response to common questions we receive from our clients. If you have additional questions, contact our office today for a free consultation with one of our marine lawyers.  We are here for you. 

What is Maritime Law?

Maritime and admiralty law is a specialized area of law that helps protect maritime workers and offers compensation for those injured while performing their maritime-related duties. Two federal laws that protect certain maritime workers include the Jones Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).  These Acts are complex federal laws that provide compensation to various maritime workers who are injured from the often dangerous work they performed aboard a vessel or, in some cases, in loading, unloading, or repairing a vessel offshore. 

What is the Difference Between the Jones Act and the LHWCA?

The Jones Act covers crew members performing work on a vessel that contributes to the vessel’s function or the accomplishment of the vessel’s mission in some way. The LHWCA also provides for compensation to maritime workers injured on the job that occur on or near the navigable waters. Workers covered by the LHWCA are often traditional maritime workers like longshore workers, ship-repairers, and harbor construction workers. For more information on these maritime laws, see our article on Maritime Law that Protects You.

What are Common Types of Maritime Accidents and Injuries?

Maritime workers sustain various injuries each year from accidents that occur while they are on the clock. Some common accidents include:

  • Breathing in fumes from toxic cargo (such as benzene or gasoline) 
  • Collisions with other vessels 
  • Equipment breakdowns
  • Mechanical failures
  • Slips and falls due to oily surfaces
  • Falling offboard
  • Improperly lifting heavy cables and lines
  • Fires and explosions that occur unexpectedly onboard

Unfortunately, these accidents can lead to deadly cancers, fractures and broken bones, drowning, back injuries, amputated limbs, burns, and more.

How Can a Maritime Accident Lawyer Help Me Obtain Compensation?

If you were injured while performing maritime-related work, an experienced marine lawyer at Willis Law Firm can explain your legal rights as well as help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Examples of damages an injured maritime worker may receive compensation for include, but are not limited to: 

  • Medical bills 
  • Lost wages 
  • Cost of rehabilitation 
  • Economic loss  
  • Pain and suffering 

Willis Law Firm is dedicated to fighting for injured maritime workers. We are tough and have decades of experience helping injured maritime workers obtain the compensation they deserve.   Our marine law firm regularly helps workers and their families who suffer from maritime-related injuries. Let us know how our team of Houston maritime lawyers can help.  

Willis Law Firm, Offshore & Maritime Lawyer
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Houston, Texas 77056

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Houston, Texas 77029

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