Tugboat Accidents

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Maritime Workers Turn to Us When They Need a Tugboat Accidents Lawyer

Every year thousands of maritime employees are injured while working on tugs, towboats and barges. As our tugboat accident law firm frequently sees, these injuries are often very severe, preventing maritime workers from returning to their original jobs.  The tankerman and deckhands that work on tugboats can be injured by many different hazards and conditions, including:

  • Falls on old or worn out stairs and ladders
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals, benzene and asbestos products
  • Absence of a gangway
  • Overworked and/or unsupervised crews
  • Cable accidents
  • Winch accidents
  • Lifting accidents
  • Oily and slippery conditions on ladders, decks and stairs
  • Inadequate or poor lighting
  • Inexperienced or improperly trained crews
  • Negligence and reckless behavior of crew members
  • Collisions with other vessels and barges
  • Operating in bad weather conditions

Tugboat Accident Statistics

According to the Tugboat, Towboat & Barge Industry Association, “[t]he tugboat, towboat and barge industry is the largest segment of the U.S. domestic maritime industry, employing more than 33,000 American mariners aboard its vessels.” Unfortunately, while this means that there are lots of jobs available onboard tugboats throughout the United States, it also means that there are a significant number of tugboat accidents each year.

The good news is that tugboat and barge accidents are relatively uncommon compared to other forms of freight transportation. For every one fatal accident involving a tugboat and/or barge, there are 18 fatal railway accidents and 132 fatal 18-wheeler accidents. Even so, tugboat accidents are still far too common, and far too many tugboat captains and crewmembers suffer serious and fatal injuries on the job. According to an article published in Reliability Engineering & System Safety, some of the leading factors that cause and contribute to a tugboat accident include:

  • Aged tugboats (in particular tugboats that are 20 years old or older)
  • Mistakes while maneuvering tugboats in proximity to barges and other vessels
  • Damage to tugboats’ hulls or machinery
  • Operating tugboats in hazardous weather conditions

Injuries Caused by Tugboat Accidents

Some accidents commonly seen by an  tugboat accident attorney include:

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

These accidents cause various injuries to maritime workers such as fractures and broken bones, drowning, back injuries, amputated limbs, burns, and more. 

Who is Liable for Tugboat Accidents?

After any type of accident, identifying the party (or parties) responsible is one of the first steps toward pursuing a claim for financial compensation. With medical bills piling up and the potential for significant lost income, job-related injuries can often put maritime workers’ financial futures on the line. As a result, fighting for just compensation needs to be a top priority, and it is critical to promptly conduct a thorough investigation focused on determining who deserves to be held accountable.

1. Your Employer

The first option is your employer. Under the Jones Act, if you were injured onboard a tugboat or barge, in most cases your employer will be obligated to pay you no-fault benefits known as “maintenance and cure.” Since these are no-fault benefits, your employer must pay regardless of the cause of your injury.

In addition to maintenance and cure benefits (which in some cases can be less than $25 per day), the Jones Act also entitles you to seek full compensation for your injuries if the accident resulted from your employer’s negligence. The Jones Act applies a standard of “slight” negligence, which means that your employer can be held accountable if it made any mistake that played any role in causing your injuries.

2. The Tugboat’s Owner

If your employer does not own the tugboat or barge on which you were injured, you may be able to seek compensation from the tugboat’s owner as well. Claims against vessel owners are not made under the Jones Act, but rather under the law of unseaworthiness. If your injury resulted from an unseaworthy condition, the tugboat’s owner may be liable for your:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future lost income
  • Travel, mileage and other related expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Other financial and non-financial harm

3. Third Parties

The third option for seeking compensation after a tugboat accident is to identify any third parties that may have caused or contributed to your injuries. These third parties could be liable for maritime negligence (such as causing a collision with your tugboat or barge or failing to adequately maintain a vessel being towed), or for supplying defective products. Under a body of law known as “products liability,” companies that design, manufacture and sell defective tools, parts, supplies, machinery, equipment and other products can be held fully liable for defect-related injuries without the need to prove negligence.

In any event, in order to secure just compensation, you will need to act quickly and avoid common mistakes that could jeopardize your legal rights. To protect yourself, you should speak with a qualified tug boat accident attorney.

Legal Recovery for Tugboat Workers

Maritime workers who are injured in tugboat accidents are typically considered to be “seamen” under the Jones Act. Injured seamen are able to collect maintenance and cure benefits from their employer until they reach maximum medical improvement. Similar to traditional workers’ compensation programs, maintenance and cure benefits are available to the worker regardless of who is to blame for the accident or injuries. Maintenance payments are intended to cover the worker’s cost of living on land and cure payments are meant to cover the costs of reasonable medical care needed to treat the worker’s injury or illness. Unfortunately, many companies try to limit the amount of money they are required to pay to injured employees, so it is important to seek representation from an experienced tugboat accident lawyer who can help you recover full benefits and compensation for your tugboat injury.

Under the Jones Act, injured seamen also have the right to pursue a claim for damages when an employer’s negligence caused the seaman’s injury. It is important to know that the burden of proof in a Jones Act negligence case is very low – the employee only needs to show that the employer’s negligence played a part, no matter how small, in his or her injury in order to recover negligence damages.

In addition to Jones Act claims, an injured tankerman or deckhand may be able to file legal claims against other parties who are responsible for their injuries. For instance, under General Maritime Law, if the company that owns the tug or towboat is a different company than the employer, the injured worker may also be able to sue the owner of the tugboat for damages. These types of suits are known as “unseaworthiness claims” and are filed by injured maritime workers when the owner of the tugboat or other vessel failed to keep the boat and its equipment in safe and proper working order.

Examples of Recent Tugboat Accidents

There have been many highly-publicized tugboat accidents in recent years. Unfortunately, all of these accidents resulted in fatalities that could – and should – have been avoided. Here are some examples:

  • Collision Involving Tugboat Results in Fatal Injuries – In May 2021, a man from Chesapeake, Virginia died after his 19-foot boat collided with a 53-foot tugboat in the Elizabeth River. Two other individuals, including an eight-year-old boy, suffered injuries in the crash. The collision occurred in the dark at approximately 9:15 pm.
  • Collision Between Tugboat and Barge Kills Three Workers – In March 2016, an 84-foot tugboat collided with a construction barge in the Hudson River while pushing a separate barge from Albany to New Jersey City. The tugboat sank with three crewmembers trapped inside. According to reports, the tugboat was working along two other tugs, and there was evidence to suggest that one of the captains of the other tugs may have been distracted at the time of the fatal crash.
  • Tugboat Capsizes with 22-Year-Old Worker Trapped Inside – In July 2013, a tugboat capsized in the Mississippi River in the area of Winona County, Minnesota after losing power. The tug went down with a 22-year-old crewmember trapped inside, and he was not able to be saved. Two other crewmembers suffered nonfatal injuries in the tragic accident.
  • Pulling Accident Results in Death of Tugboat Captain – In February 2007, a tugboat captain died in the Marina Del Ray when she got pinched by the rope her tug used to pull a barge. Another crewmember suffered severe injuries when the rope broke free.

Unfortunately, accidents like these are not uncommon. From distracted captains to inadequate tugboat maintenance, numerous issues can put crewmembers’ lives at risk. When crewmembers lose their lives, their families are often entitled to significant financial compensation, and we are proud to help families recover just compensation for their losses.

Suffering from an Injury? Our Tugboat Accidents Lawyer Has Decades of Experience Fighting for Victims of Tugboat Accidents

If you have been injured on a tugboat, barge or any other type of boat or vessel, discuss your case with a tugboat injury lawyer at the Willis Law Firm today. You may be entitled to recover maintenance and cure benefits from your employer and file a negligence suit against your employer, the tugboat owner and other third party companies responsible for your injuries. Call us today at 1-800-468-4878 for a free and completely confidential consultation. Our nationwide practices help victims tugboat accidents in states such as Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and more.

Willis Law Firm, Offshore & Maritime Lawyer
Nationwide Help - Licensed in Texas and New York
Principal Office
5005 Riverway Drive
Suite #160

Houston, Texas 77056

713-654-4040
1-800-468-4878
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Suite #232

Houston, Texas 77029

713-930-1717
1-800-447-8400
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