Maritime Injury Law Firm in Mobile, AL
Working in the maritime industry in Mobile, Alabama may be very rewarding, but it’s also an industry with a high rate of worker-involved accidents and injuries. At the law offices of the Fuquay Law Firm, our maritime injury law firm is committed to providing high-quality representation to injured maritime workers and their families. If you have questions about the process of bringing forth a maritime injury law claim and how our law firm can help you to maximize your settlement amount, please call our law firm directly today for a free consultation.
Types of Maritime Accidents and Injuries
From injuries that happen on the dock to those that occur on a maritime vessel, the potential for accidents and injuries abounds. Some of the most common types of maritime accidents and injuries include:
- Slip, trip, and fall accidents and injuries. Wet floors and slippery surfaces can lead to slip, trip, and fall accidents–one of the most common maritime accident types.
- Falling overboard accidents and injuries. Falling overboard is one of the most serious types of accidents and may have fatal consequences for an involved worker.
- Equipment accidents and injuries. On a maritime vessel, as well as on the dock, there are often various types of heavy equipment and machinery that are essential to the work. For example, fishing vessels may require large nets and the equipment to hoist them, bilge pumps, and more. When equipment is defective or is negligently maintained or operated, those who are around the equipment are at risk of serious injury.
- Fire and explosion accidents and injuries. Fires and explosions are not uncommon on maritime vessels, especially those vessels which transport or utilize hazardous materials, chemicals, and substances, including oil and gas.
- Hazardous material exposure. Maritime vessels often also transport hazardous materials. When workers are exposed to these materials, they may develop occupational injuries, illnesses, or diseases, ranging from chemical burn injuries to cancer.
- Repetitive motion injuries. Some workers are also at risk of developing repetitive motion injuries. These types of injuries, which typically affect the soft tissues, are a result of performing the same task in the same position for an extended amount of time.
Causes of Maritime Accidents and Injuries
The vast majority of maritime accidents and injuries are entirely preventable, and would not occur but for defective equipment and machinery, poor training and management, and worker or employer negligence.
- Defective equipment and machinery. On a maritime vessel and on a dock, it is critical that all of the equipment and machinery that workers use is safe when operated as intended. Failing to properly maintain or repair machinery can lead to defects that are life-threatening. In addition to improper maintenance and repair, some equipment and machinery may be defectively manufactured or designed, putting maritime workers’ lives at risk.
- Improper training and management. Equipment may be working properly, but if the person who is operating it hasn’t been adequately trained, the operation can be extremely dangerous. The same is true for a range of maritime worker tasks and responsibilities–proper training, management, and oversight are key for everyone’s safety and wellbeing. Furthermore, inexperienced boaters may not know the regulations of different waterways, causing them to act in ways that are unsafe or disrespectful to other boaters. This includes ensuring that all safety regulations are properly adhered to.
Inattentiveness. Inattentiveness is a top cause of boating accidents. Failing to pay attention to a number of key metrics can put your boating trip at risk. For example, accidents often happen because a boat runs out of gas. In some settings, that’s not a huge issue—you simply have a marine towing company bring you gas directly to your boat. But in more dangerous waters, this can spell disaster. On the same note, failing to keep a proper lookout can lead to accidents. This is fairly common, because boaters get a little too comfortable and then focus their attention on the people with them. Always maintain a lookout.
Impaired Boating. Alcohol is a factor in many boating accidents. Many people overestimate their tolerance and end up too impaired to boat safely. Alcohol impacts your judgment and slows your reflexes, preventing you from responding appropriately to obstacles. It is important to always have a sober navigator on every boat trip.
Speeding. This probably comes as no surprise but speeding in a boat is extremely dangerous. If the speed you’re traveling at is too fast for you to react to a change in conditions or a danger in your path, it is too fast for you to maintain. Additionally, waterways have their own speed limits, and exceeding these limits puts you at risk of citations and accidents. Even if you are traveling below the waterway’s speed limit, keep in mind that you may still be traveling too fast for conditions. You must adjust your speed at night and in bad weather.
- Even when equipment is safe and workers are properly trained, the negligence or carelessness of an employer or an employee may lead to serious accidents. For example, a maritime captain may decide to take a vessel out in unsafe conditions–a decision that another captain facing similar circumstances would not make. Or, an employer may fail to maintain a maritime vessel in safe condition by failing to ensure spills are cleaned and walking surfaces are maintained, thereby putting workers at risk of a slip and fall accident.
Essential Actions to Take After an At-Sea Injury
Not only is reporting quickly important for your work injury claim, it is important for your physical health. If you don’t report the injury right away, you may also delay getting the medical attention you need. Under the Jones Act, injured seamen have three years to file a claim for compensation. However, you shouldn’t wait that long to file a claim. The earlier you do so, the easier it is to prove that your injuries were caused by your work.
Get the Medical Care You Need
Prompt medical attention is essential after an at-sea injury. Many injuries require prompt care, and any delay could limit your ability to recover. Some injured seamen worry that getting medical care will cost their employer too much money or put them at risk of getting fired. However, your employer is obligated to get you medical care when you are injured while working. Depending on the severity of your injury and your location, the doctor may come see you on the boat or you may have to seek care as soon as you dock. Make sure to keep records of the care you receive.
Don’t Talk to Insurance Companies
Insurance companies are usually quick to reach out to victims after injuries. They may claim that they simply want to know what happened, get your side of the story, or make sure you are properly compensated for your injuries. Remember, though, that they are not working for you. They are trying to limit their own liability in case your injuries turn out to be serious.
Their goal is to get you to accept a small settlement and sign a liability waiver. This protects them from lawsuits and ensures that you can’t ask for more money if your injuries worsen down the road. Nothing you tell an insurance company can help you; it can only hurt. Because of that, wait to talk to anyone else about the accident until you take the next step.
Emotional Distress in Maritime
What Causes Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress can happen in any personal injury or work accident where a victim is in fear for their life or safety. It may occur as the result of a physical injury or a near miss accident, in which something more serious could have occurred but did not.
The Negligent Infliction of Emotional Stress
Luckily, maritime law addresses these situations, including those that result in physical injury and those that only result in emotional injury. If you can prove that the defendant negligently inflicted emotional stress on you, you may be able to seek compensation from them. To do so, you have to show that you suffered emotional or physical injury as a consequence of the shock or fright you experienced.
The Zone of Danger and Negligence
To determine whether or not a victim has a valid emotional injury claim, courts use the zone of danger test. The zone of danger test allows compensation for people in two separate categories:
- Those who suffer physical injury because of someone else’s negligent behavior
- Those who were in immediate risk of physical harm because of someone else’s negligent behavior
The first is fairly easy to prove, as a serious injury is often the cause of emotional distress for an accident victim. However, if you have an emotional injury because of a near miss, you will need to prove that you were at immediate risk of harm.
How Long Do I Have to File a Maritime Injury Claim?
Admiralty Jurisdiction Act and Other Related Acts
Under the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, Suits in Admiralty Act, or Public Vessels Act, people working on vessels chartered by the United States government can file a claim after a workplace injury. The statute of limitations is complicated. While you may legally have two years to file a claim, you must actually file the claim within 18 months after the injury. A six-month denial period is built into the two-year statute of limitations.
Death on the High Seas Act
The Death on the High Seas Act only applies to deaths that occur more than three nautical miles from the shore of the United States. A death occurring because of neglect, a wrongful act, or other reason may qualify for compensation under DOHSA. A surviving family member must file a claim within three years of the date of the family member’s death. A DOHSA claim allows a surviving family member to seek compensation for funeral costs, loss of financial support, counseling costs, and other death-related expenses. Those who can file a claim include the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, or other dependent family members.
One of the most widely known acts that offer workplace protections to seamen and vessel workers is the Jones Act. Through the Jones Act, injured seamen can seek maintenance and cure to cover their medical expenses and lost wages. On top of that, injured workers may seek additional compensation if their injuries occurred because of someone else’s negligence. If you plan on filing a claim under the Jones Act, you have three years from the date of the injury.
Maximum Medical Improvement
Under the Jones Act, an injured seaman can continue receiving maintenance and cure until they reach the point of maximum medical improvement, often shortened to MMI. MMI does not necessarily mean you are completely cured; it simply means that you have improved as much as you ever will from your injury. In some cases, reaching maximum medical improvement does mean that you’ve healed fully and are able to return to work in your regular capacity.
In other situations, once you reach maximum medical improvement you are still not fully recovered from your injury. You may still need substantial medical care to maintain your quality of life and limit your pain, but you will no longer have your medical expenses paid by maintenance and cure.
This obviously puts permanently injured seamen in a difficult position. Not only are they facing permanent injury, they are also unable to meet their financial obligations due to a workplace injury. Consider a condition like paralysis, where “maximum medical improvement” still leaves a seaman without any real job opportunities or other ways to meet their financial obligations.
What If I Become Ill While Working Aboard a Vessel?
If you become seriously ill while working aboard a vessel, you receive the same benefits as someone who is physically injured while working aboard a vessel. You receive maintenance and cure until you reach the point of maximum medical improvement.
The Role of Union Membership
Depending on where you work and where your ship is docked, your role as a union member could determine how much maintenance you receive when you become injured. If your union contract contains a clause that specifies your maintenance rate, that is what you will receive. This can work for you and against you; if the rate is higher than your actual maintenance expenses, you still receive the full amount. If the rate is lower than your maintenance expenses, that’s still all you receive.
This law does not apply in all jurisdictions. Union contract maintenance rules are only applicable in some parts of the country, so it depends entirely on where you work and if your union contract even mentions your maintenance rate. This is a topic to bring up both with your union representative and with your maritime injury attorney.
Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
Injuries occurring under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, also known as the LHWCA, must be reported to your employer within 30 days of the incident. However, it is recommended that you let your supervisor or manager know as soon as possible. Your claim for compensation must be filed within one year of the date of the injury. If your employer pays benefits voluntarily, a written claim must be submitted within one year of your last payment. Failing to meet this deadline allows your employer to object to the claim and deny benefits.
Our Maritime Injury Practice Areas
At the Fuquay Law Firm, our maritime attorney cares about making sure that workers who are involved in serious maritime accidents receive the compensation and support they need. We can assist workers in the maritime industry with various types of claims, including:
- Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) claims. For surviving family members of those maritime workers who have been killed as a result of an employer’s negligence or unseaworthiness, the Death on the High Seas Act–or DOHSA–provides an avenue for compensation. Work with our lawyers to learn more about how to bring forth a claim and the type of compensation you may be able to recover.
- Jones Act claims. For seamen who are injured as a result of their employer’s unseaworthiness or negligence, bringing a claim for damages under the Jones Act is possible. Under the Jones Act, an employer can be held liable for a seaman’s injuries when the injuries would not have occurred but for the employer’s negligence. An injured seaman can recover compensation for the full value of their injuries, including compensation for noneconomic damages like pain and suffering.
- Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) claims. Finally, our lawyers can support you if you are a maritime worker who does not qualify as a seaman and who has been injured at work, such as a harbor worker or shipbuilder. Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, or LHWCA, a worker is eligible for compensation for their medical expenses, as well as a portion of their lost wages if their injury prevents them from working. In this sense, the law is very similar to traditional workers’ compensation systems.
What Are the Main Differences Between the Jones Act and Workers’ Compensation?
Perhaps the most obvious difference between the Jones Act and the workers’ compensation system is the question of intent. Workers’ compensation is an option that seeks to accommodate both employees and employers. It allows employees to get medical bill coverage and lost wages without having to prove that their employer caused their injuries. It generally prohibits employees from suing their employer after a workplace injury, which protects employers from lawsuits and lowers their operating expenses.
The Jones Act, on the other hand, specifically allows injured seamen to sue their employers. That is to say, the Jones Act operates similarly to a regular personal injury claim in which the employer can be sued for a workplace injury, but the employee must also prove negligence on his employers part. In addition to to the jones Act, an injured seam may also recover damages against the vessel owner if his injuries were caused by an unseaworthy condition of the vessel.
How to Get Started with Our Maritime Injury Law Firm
If you have been injured as a maritime worker, don’t wait any longer to take action. Instead, reach out to the Fuquay Law Firm today for your free consultation. You can reach our passionate maritime injury lawyer by phone at 251-473-4443 or by sending us a confidential message using the intake form on our website.
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