Maritime Injury Law Firm
Working in the maritime industry 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.
Common Maritime Injuries
The maritime industry is dangerous for a number of reasons, including that maritime workers often work around heavy equipment and machinery, hazardous or explosive substances, and dangerous conditions. Merely being at sea can be inherently dangerous, as the risk of drowning or nearly drowning is ever-present. Our maritime injury law firm provides representation to workers who have been injured on the job. Common maritime injuries include:
- Head and traumatic brain injuries. A head or traumatic brain injury can be the result of numerous accident types that are common in the maritime industry, including slips, trips, and falls; accidents involving heavy equipment and machinery; fall-overboard accidents; assault; and more. Traumatic brain injuries vary widely in severity, from concussions that heal quickly with nothing but rest to permanent TBIs that leave patients nonverbal and unable to move independently. Maritime workers may sustain TBIs after colliding with a swinging boom, falling on a slippery deck, or getting knocked down by the force of a sudden wave. They may also get hurt by unsafe or malfunctioning equipment, poorly secured equipment and machinery, crane accidents, or a lack of personal protective gear. TBIs are typically categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. Those with the worst TBIs may be in a comatose state for long stretches of time, lose control of their extremities, be unable to speak or communicate, or lose control of their emotions.
- Injuries to extremities. Injuries to extremities might include crush injuries–which are most common as the result of an incident involving heavy equipment and machinery, such as a caught in or caught in-between accident, soft tissue injuries, bone fracture injuries, and amputation injuries.
- Back and spine injuries, which may result from incidents with heavy equipment and machinery, slip and fall accidents, and more. One of the most serious types of back injuries is a spinal cord injury, which can cause permanent paralysis from the site of the injury downwards. The trauma sustained by the cord can lead to paralysis, coma, difficulty breathing, and muscle spasms, depending on the severity. Other common causes of spinal cord damage include unsafe equipment that pins or crushes the employee, poor lifting procedures, or safety violations that put employees at risk.
- Internal injuries, illnesses, and diseases. Sometimes, injuries are not immediately apparent to the naked eye, but they are serious nonetheless. Internal injuries, including ruptured or punctured organs, may happen as the result of serious accidents, such as falling object accidents. A worker who is exposed to dangerous substances and materials on the job could also develop an occupational illness or disease. For example, a maritime worker who is exposed to asbestos as a result of their job may develop mesothelioma.
- Burn injuries. Tragically, explosions and fires are not uncommon on maritime vessels, often leading to catastrophic consequences for employees of the vessel.
- Broken bones: This type of injury is incredibly common on boats and in other maritime settings. Seamen often suffer broken bones after falling, getting crushed between heavy objects or pieces of equipment, or being struck by unsecured cargo. The damage depends on which bone is fractured and how severe the break is. For example, a clean break of a leg bone is less likely to have serious long-term effects than a skull fracture that leads to a TBI. However, serious or complex fractures can leave seamen with chronic pain, limited mobility, nerve damage, or even amputation. These types of injuries can easily end a seaman’s career.
- Lung damage: Seamen can suffer serious lung damage though disease or injury throughout the course of their career. As noted earlier, lungs can get punctured or collapse as the result of a crush injury. Traumatic brain damage can also leave a victim unable to breathe deeply and fully, putting the lungs at risk of chronic disease or illness.
In addition to the above, any worker who is involved in a serious accident may not only develop physical injuries, but also psychological injuries, too.
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. When a slip and fall occurs, a worker may suffer injuries including bone fractures, soft tissue sprains and strains, a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury, back and neck injuries, internal injuries, and more. Slip and fall accidents may occur as a result of wet surfaces, spills of substances, objects in walking areas, falling objects, uneven walking surfaces, and more.
- 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. Falling overboard may occur when objects and materials are being moved (i.e. loading and unloading cargo), when fishing and handling fishing gear, as a result of being struck by a heavy object, due to a slip and fall, and more. Falling overboard could result in a serious traumatic brain injury, injuries to extremities, and drowning or near-drowning, the latter of which can cause long-term brain damage.
- 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. Type of equipment- and machinery-involved injuries might include getting caught in or in-between equipment/machinery, entanglement injuries, struck by object injuries, limb amputation injuries, and more. Severe crush injuries occur when a part of the body experiences so much pressure that bones splinter, break, or break down into pieces. They may also result in collapsed or punctured lungs. Complications can occur when a victim suffers crush injuries. Crushed tissue may break down and move into the bloodstream, and the body has to successfully remove it to avoid infection or kidney damage. Crush injuries can also cause systemic infection. Open wounds are at major risk of infection, which can quickly spread through the body and put you at risk of death.
- 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. When an onboard fire or explosion occurs, the results may be devastating for those involved. Burn injuries, amputation injuries, hearing loss injuries, inhalation injuries, and more are all possible. In some cases, fire and explosion accidents result in worker fatalities.
- Hazardous material exposure. In addition to substances that are flammable or explosive leading to maritime accidents and worker injuries, 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. In addition to the range of acute accidents and injuries that maritime workers may be at risk of suffering, 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. Repetitive motion injuries–while taking months or years to develop–can be extremely painful and disabling and should be treated seriously.
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.
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.
Types of Compensation Available
Workers’ compensation is strictly limited in the types of payments it gives employees. Employees have their medical expenses paid, but only if they go to an insurance-approved doctor and receive what is considered to be a reasonable amount of medical care.
In terms of wages, compensation often varies, depending on the extent of your disability and how long it is expected to last. Payments also vary between states; in some states, the amount of compensation for permanent total disability is different from the amount of compensation given for temporary partial disability.
In Alabama, for example, compensation is based on your earnings in the 52 weeks prior to your injury. After a three-day waiting period, an injured employee receives wages equal to 66 2/3% of their average weekly wage. This amount is limited by minimum and maximum limits.
Under the Jones Act, injured seamen have many more options in terms of compensation. Seamen are entitled to maintenance and cure. Maintenance is payment for the inured seaman’s living expenses. Cure payment for necessary medical treatment. These are somewhat similar to workers’ compensation benefits. However, an injured seaman can also recover compensation for lost wages, future medical expenses, and pain and suffering.
This is what sets the Jones Act apart from workers’ compensation. Those who receive workers’ compensation cannot go after their employer for pain and suffering or any additional expenses, even if their employer’s negligence is responsible for their injuries.
Who Qualifies for Compensation
The workers’ compensation system is available to the vast majority of employees in the United States. Some employers are not required to buy workers’ compensation insurance, either because of the size of the company or because of their industry. Outside of these exceptions, employees have a straightforward way of seeking compensation after an injury.
The Jones Act is very limited in its scope. It generally covers those who are employed as crew members aboard a vessel and, potentially, those who spend at least 30% of their time working in connection with the function of a vessel.
To recover compensation under the Jones Act, a seaman must be able to prove that their injury occurred due to the employer’s negligence or the negligence of someone else working on the vessel. A seaman may also recover if his/her injury if that injury is caused by an unseaworthy condition.
Our law firm represents clients throughout Alabama, Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Pensacola, Florida.
Our Maritime Injury Lawyer
As you search for the right maritime injury lawyer for your case, we encourage you to consider Attorney Richard W. Fuquay of the Fuquay Law Firm. When you work with Attorney Fuquay, you gain several advantages, including:
- Skilled and experienced. Attorney Richard W. Fuquay has decades of legal experience, graduating from the University of Alabama with his J.D. in 1991. Over the years, he has sharpened his skills and gained the experience–both in and out of the courtroom–necessary to improve the outcome of even the toughest of cases.
- Proven advocate. Attorney Ricahrd W. Fuquay is a proven advocate for and ally of his clients, as well as maritime workers in general. The Fuquay Law Firm is passionate about asserting the rights of seamen under the Jones Act, seeking justice for all injured maritime workers, and ensuring that injured maritime workers’ rights are upheld throughout the claims process.
- Results-driven. The most important thing to consider when you are selecting an attorney is whether or not your attorney will get results. At the Fuquay Law Firm, we have the case history to back up our name and the results to prove our success.
- Strong peer reviews. Finally, Attorney Richard W. Fuquay has strong peer reviews and ratings that speak to his excellence as an attorney. These include an AV Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell®, the highest peer rating standard.
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 251-219-0329 or by sending us a confidential message using the intake form on our website.