What Is Maritime Law?
Several federal laws provide a patchwork quilt of coverage to maritime workers, whether workers spend most of their time at sea (the Jones Act) or on shore (the Harbor Workers Compensation Act). Broadly speaking, maritime law (or admiralty law) covers actions and accidents that take place on or near waterways used for international and or interstate commerce. This may include offshore injuries, oil platform injuries, cruise ship injuries, or accidents that take place in commercial harbors.
The Houston personal injury lawyers at Blass Law have the experience and expertise to navigate the complicated framework of maritime law and get you the maximum compensation for your injuries. If you have suffered injuries while offshore, request an appointment online for a confidential case evaluation.
For a legal consultation with a maritime and admiralty accident lawyer serving Houston, call 713-225-1900
Maritime Accidents and Injuries
Maritime accidents encompass far more scenarios than a sinking ship or collision between two boats. The types of injuries that may result from a maritime accident can range from broken bones and soft tissue injuries, to certain types of cancers, traumatic brain injury, repetitive use injuries, and accidental drownings.
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Common Maritime Accidents
Some of the maritime accidents for which you may recover damages include:
- Tanker ship and platform accidents
- Drilling rig accidents
- Cruise ship accidents
- Crane accidents
- Commercial diving accidents
- Riverboat accidents
- Barge accidents
- Shrimp or commercial fishing boat accidents
- Shipyard accidents
- Deck accidents
- Plane crashes in U.S. or international waters.
Common Maritime Accident Injuries
Generally speaking, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), the Death on the High Seas Act (DHSA), and the Jones Act provide legal recourse for just about any physical injury a qualified worker may suffer while operating on or near a covered vessel. Some of the most common offshore injuries include:
It’s not uncommon for a seaman or dock worker to be knocked overboard; unfortunately, the force of being knocked into the water can be disorienting and result in a loss of consciousness. A worker who falls overboard and inhales water could wind up with serious respiratory issues or even brain damage from the temporary loss of oxygen.
Slips and falls
Ship decks can be slippery even when careful preventive measures are taken, which means slips and falls are quite common in the maritime industry.
Asphyxiation and poisoning
Seamen and dock workers may often find themselves operating in enclosed spaces, increasing the risk of asphyxiation and carbon monoxide poisoning if proper ventilation techniques aren’t observed.
Many ships also transport (or use) caustic chemicals, which can cause serious burns when they come into contact with bare skin.
Repetitive use injuries
For seamen and dock workers who perform the same (physical) job day in and day out, it can be easy to develop repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel, “tennis elbow,” and other chronic conditions.
This list is not an exhaustive one. While covered workers may be able to pursue compensation for any injury suffered while on a ship, they’ll also need to prove that this injury was the direct consequence of the ship owner’s, captain’s, and/or crew’s negligence. Injuries that occur while the seaman was intoxicated or otherwise acting in an irresponsible manner may be excluded from recovery.
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Laws Governing Maritime Injuries
The Jones Act
Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, protects sailors and seamen who are injured at sea. Although there are some maritime laws governing international waters, these laws don’t provide the same negligence protections to which U.S. workers are accustomed. Before the Jones Act, this meant that a seaman who was injured by his or her employer’s negligence while boarding a ship could sue the employer and request a jury trial, but the same seaman injured just a few miles out to sea would be unable to file a maritime injury lawsuit or recover any damages.
What Claims Are Eligible Under the Jones Act?
Under the Jones Act, eligible maritime employees who suffer personal injuries “in the course of their employment” can sue the ship owner, captain, and/or crew for negligence and enjoy all the same rights (including the right to a trial by jury) as a person injured on shore. Potential claims can include unseaworthiness and general negligence, as well as certain employment discrimination or harassment claims.
Who Can Sue Under the Jones Act?
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, in order to be a “Jones Act” seaman, an employee must spend at least 30 percent of his or her total working time “in the service of a vessel on navigable waters.” Workers who spend less of their working time at sea may still be able to file a lawsuit under another U.S. law, but can’t take advantage of the Jones Act.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act
Many maritime workers won’t meet the 30 percent threshold for Jones Act coverage. The Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) provides wrongful death and disability coverage for workers, including dock workers, who suffer an injury or while working in navigable waters (or adjoining areas, like docks) in and along the boundaries of the U.S.
Eligible injuries for compensation under the LHWCA include hearing losses, short-term ailments, and occupational diseases like exhaust-related cancers, as well as physical injuries caused by a sudden accident. The LHWCA covers longshore workers, shipbuilders and repairers, dock workers, and harbor construction workers. It does not cover government workers (like members of the military) or those who qualify as seamen under the Jones Act.
The Death on the High Seas Act
The Death on the High Seas Act (DHSA) provides wrongful death coverage for surviving family members of seamen killed at sea, as well as coverage for injuries and deaths that result from airline disasters at sea.
Although the DHSA can provide coverage for workers who are already covered under the Jones Act, the situations for which coverage is extended can differ. For instance, if a seaman suffers a disabling injury because the ship owner failed to make necessary repairs before embarking, he or she may have a Jones Act claim; if the seaman passes away as a result of these injuries, the claim might instead proceed under DHSA.
Contact an Offshore Accident Lawyer
If you were injured in an offshore accident, you need the expertise of the Houston maritime accident attorneys at Blass Law. We know the applicable maritime law and can negotiate with employers and insurance companies to get the best possible settlement for your injuries. Call ((713) 225-1900 today to speak with our expert offshore injury lawyers or request a case evaluation online.