Maritime Injuries

When Do You Need a Maritime Injury Lawyer?

Legal cases involving offshore job sites and maritime injuries have unique circumstances. Arguing these cases requires extensive knowledge on liability, jurisdiction, and the Jones Act, a federal law that regulates the maritime commerce of the United States, including the responsibilities of vessel owners and crews.

We at Pierce Skrabanek have successfully represented the personal injury cases of seafaring workers, and strive to make sure your rights are protected when working on the waves. Read on to learn more about what standards of safety maritime job sites need to meet. Also find out about the most common maritime injuries, their causes, and when it’s necessary to seek help from a maritime injury law firm.

Table of Contents

A dock worker in a helmet and safety vest stands among cargo crates.

Who Is Considered a “Seaman” Under Law?

If you have full-time work on a barge, towboat, tugboat, tanker, oil rig, drill ship, jack-up rig, or on the docks, you are legally considered a “seaman” under the Jones Act.

However, if you spend at least 30% of your time on a water vessel, or performing duties related to the operation of such a vessel (ship breakers, builders, and repairers), you also qualify as a “seaman” under law.

This is according to the The Longshore Harbor and Workers’ Compensation Act, and is a definition that has been reaffirmed in recent case law. What it means for you is: you may be entitled to further protections and insurance as a seaman if you’re injured while doing a maritime job.

The legal definitions and protections regarding seamen are put in place so that those whose service regularly exposes him (or her) to the perils of the sea are appropriately protected. Pierce Skrabanek has the familiarity to help you navigate these choppy legal waters.

The lawyers at Pierce Skrabanek have the familiarity to help you navigate the choppy legal waters of maritime injury cases.

What Are the Proper Safety Standards on Maritime Job Sites?

Offshore and maritime workers have some of the most dangerous jobs in the country and across the globe. Unlike logging, trucking, or coal mining, the dangers of maritime work entail shifting environments that require complex safety measures.

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), each of the following safety categories merits its own sub-committee for focused consideration.

What follows are examples of the proper maritime safety protections:

Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC)

  • Safety here means establishing the correct packaging of solid bulk cargoes, gas cargoes, and dangerous goods across multinational standards. Special care is taken regarding explosive, flammable, and low-flashpoint materials, as well as other “dangerous” goods like pharmaceuticals or biological materials.
  • Your safety could be compromised if these are not packed, stored and transported properly.

Ship Design and Construction (SDC)

  • This category covers an expansive range from the technical aspects of a ship, the functionality of its design/architecture, the stability of its various components, and the testing of its building materials and accessories (like load lines and tonnage limits).
  • If the vessel you work on or with is not up to the minimum safety standards, or if someone has modified the safety designs for ease of use regardless of the dangers, that means any injury you suffer may be considered less of an accident and more of a consequence.

Implementation of IMO Instruments (III)

  • This aspect of safety involves prevention after-the-fact, specifically bringing together various port and coastal States to audit and analyze the lessons learned from marine mishaps.
  • For an individual worker, it matters that a devastating and preventable injury that happened to one person previously doesn’t happen again to you. Or it could mean ensuring that your injury is the last of its kind for future maritime workers.

Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR)

  • This sub-committee analyzes and approves shipping routes, and maintains the performance standard requirements for communication and navigational equipment. It also handles matters of search and rescue, including the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).
  • For those in peril on the sea, swift location and rescue can easily mean the difference between a short-term injury and a life-long condition. It can also be the difference between death and survival.

Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE)

  • A vessel’s systems and equipment range from the operational to the technical components of the rig, from the gears-and-cogs machinery to radars, sonars, and comms.
  • This also includes any instruments on board for cooking, cleaning, fire detection, fire extinguishing, as well as life-saving medical equipment. A failure in any one system can have a domino effect on the rest, so all must be ship-shape to ensure safety.

Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR)

  • The safety concerns of the PPR sub-committee involve both environmental and human considerations. First, in controlling the emissions of the vessel into the surrounding environment, like oil in the case of drilling apparatuses, sewage and food waste, and garbage disposal.
  • Next, in maintaining the vessel itself from water damage, be that erosion from salt water or biofouling (the fouling of underwater surfaces and pipes by organisms like algae or barnacles).
  • Then, the responsibility is to keep both of the above pollutant categories from harming the human crew.

Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW)

  • The “human element” is you: the worker, the crew member, the operator that keeps maritime commerce moving. Safety for humans specifically includes robust training, relevant and up-to-date certification, regular reviews of the job being done, and support for the human condition.
  • How this affects you is by centering human nature when it comes to maritime work. Humans need adequate rest, nutrition, and recreation to be our optimal best. Avoiding fatigue, burnout, and toxic social circumstances (from inappropriate workplace treatment to a lack of sufficient shoretime to maintain your personal life) is important, because a supported employee is a safer employee.

As you can see, when it comes to the safety of offshore jobs, the regulations are multifaceted. But all these standards and practices still cannot prevent every injury from happening. The next section details the most common workplace injuries in maritime jobs.

 

What Causes the Most Common Maritime Injuries?

The unique dangers maritime workers face can be extremely hazardous. Here are the circumstances that cause some of the most common maritime injuries. These damages may require an experienced maritime injury attorney to help you with optimal recovery.

Severe Weather Working Conditions

  • Storms at sea can be violent and temperamental, forcing workers to complete their tasks in high wind, freezing rain, and pummeling waves.
  • Slips and falls can lead to soft tissue tears, broken bones, head trauma, and the risk of hypothermia (freezing), asphyxia (suffocation), or death.

Irregular Schedules

  • Many people work the night shift on land, but as with emergency rescue workers who work 24-hour shifts with unpredictable calls, certain maritime workers have a high-stress job with little-to-no room for error.
  • Dealing with such high stakes in tight, cramped, and often windowless environments puts extra stress on the human mind. It can lead to trouble sleeping, slower reaction times, confusion, impairment, or delirium, and thus to a higher risk of making dangerous errors.

Toxicity

  • The confined nature of sea-faring vessels and ocean rigs may also lead to issues with air, specifically suffocation due to lack of oxygen, or poisoning due to trapped gas or the release of other toxic materials like asbestos (a fibrous mineral known to cause mesothelioma cancer).
  • Asbestos should not be present at your job site or anyone else’s, and there should be fail-safes and alarms in place to make sure the air at sea is breathable at all times.

Explosions

  • Explosions on offshore sites and vessels can happen for many reasons, not all of them man-made. Flammable material being transported that is improperly stored may blow, or containers of explosive materials may get damaged during transit and leak. Likewise, unchecked pressure buildup of liquid or gases can burst too.
  • In addition to those potential risks from the cargo, violent expulsions could also result from interacting with deep sea currents or drilling through the seafloor (trapped methane). An unplanned explosion could concuss crew members, destabilize the vessel, send shrapnel flying, and/or start fires, which could potentially maim, burn, or kill.

Blunt Trauma and Crushing Incidents

  • The heavy machinery involved in offshore jobs can cause crushing injuries, spinal cord and neck injuries, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and loss of eye(s) or limb(s).
  • Any such injury needs immediate medical care. However, in some instances an amputation or head trauma could have been avoided if it weren’t for negligence or mishandling of the equipment. In these situations, it’s important that beyond compensatory support, wrongdoers are punished and procedures changed to stop it from happening again. This is something that a qualified lawyer like those at Pierce Skrabanek may help facilitate.

Electrocutions

  • Even on land, water and electricity do not mix. Exposed or eroded wiring in a maritime setting can start fires, electrocute workers, electrify surrounding water or metals (causing burns), and once again there’s more than just man-made dangers to avoid.
  • On land, lighting strikes the highest trees and is drawn to metal lightning rods on tall buildings. In its mission to quickly discharge that electric energy straight to the ground, lightning strikes at the highest point possible. In the middle of the ocean, that can easily mean your rig or ship.
  • As it’s a well-known natural phenomenon, a catastrophic lightning strike should be avoided and planned for. If it’s not properly handled, that is not “an act of God” as insurance companies have called it, but a consequence of human failure.

Drownings

  • For as long as there have been ships at sea, there have been men and women lost to drowning. Even in the cases where a worker is revived after drowning, the brain damage left by a lack of oxygen can be devastating.
  • For surviving family members who lose a loved one to a maritime injury, Pierce Skrabanek has practical knowledge in handling cases that concern the Death on the High Seas Act. For those who need an advocate to help recover from an offshore or port injury, again Pierce Skrabanek has the experience necessary to leave no stone unturned in getting you all the recovery support possible.

No matter what kind of injury you’ve suffered, an experienced maritime injury lawyer can help make sure you get all the care you’re owed.

A maritime worker climbs an offshore rig.

What Does “Maintenance and Cure” Cover for Injured Maritime Workers?

Whether you’ve suffered a back injury from moving heavy equipment, received burns or toxic exposure, or other life-changing emergencies like amputations or head trauma, under the Jones Act you are owed what’s called “maintenance and cure.”

“Maintenance” is the daily allowance to cover food and expenses that workers would have received aboard a vessel. “Cure” refers to medical expenses such as hospital expenses, doctor’s visits, and prescription medication.

Your other rightful compensations under the Jones Act include a consideration of:

  • Lost wages: Every paycheck you don’t bring home because you were injured on the job is considered lost wages, including other payments associated with your wage, like vacation days and sick leave.
  • Future economic loss: If your injury prevents you from working, prevents you from rising to a better position, or demotes you to lower-skilled work than the position you held before, these are future economic losses a lawyer can help account for.
  • Pain and suffering: The injuries suffered in maritime work can be profound. The pain experienced at the time of injury, and sometimes long afterwards if the wound is chronic, may be an enormous burden to bear. This pain matters when compensating for your injuries.
  • Mental anguish: In addition to physical pain, losing a part of yourself to a work injury (be it a limb, your ability to move without pain, to walk without a limp, or to use your body and/or brain to its full capacity) is recognized as causing mental anguish, and also deserves consideration when awarding damages in a legal setting.
  • PTSD support: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition suffered by soldiers, assault survivors, accident survivors, and potentially anyone who experiences a severe psychological shock or injury. It could manifest as disturbed sleep, vivid recollections of the traumatizing event, and/or a dulled response to the world around you. 
  • Disfigurement: Loss of limb, bodily scarring, or facial disfigurement are given full consideration when trying to account for what is lost in a maritime injury. While it may not be possible to make you whole again, it’s important to make sure you are valued. 
  • Medical expenses: Hospitalizations, surgeries, aftercare, physical therapy, medications, and psychological support—all of these are medical expenses that an employer must cover when you are injured offshore.
  • Wrongful death: For the family members who have lost both a loved one and a source of income, a maritime injury attorney can help articulate all that is due, from the monetary loss of a breadwinner to the human loss of a child, a spouse, or a parent.

If you think you need a maritime injury lawyer, reach out and ask: the consultation is free. Hear from our clients Curtis and Cheryl regarding their experience with Pierce Skrabanek after Curtis suffered a stroke during offshore work on an oil rig.

How Can I Talk to a Maritime Injury Attorney?

Maritime lawsuits can be complex, with multiple points of potential liability. Was it the equipment that malfunctioned? Was an operator at fault? Or did an accident occur because of the way the cargo was packed or loaded? What if it was all of the above? The right maritime injury lawyer has the knowledge necessary to help pin down responsibility so that you can heal in peace.

Pierce Skrabanek is a nationwide firm that operates out of Texas and offers bilingual English and Spanish service to our clients. To discuss your situation and schedule a free legal consultation, contact the offices of Pierce Skrabanek today by calling (832) 690-7000 or by filling out our online contact form. We handle all cases on a contingency basis, meaning that we don’t get paid unless we win or settle.

Our experience inside the courtroom has garnered several awards, including induction into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and SuperLawyers by Texas Monthly Magazine. When accounting for the damages suffered in a maritime injury, a dedicated attorney from Pierce Skrabanek can help get you the means to mend as quickly as possible, without sacrificing critical care.

Maritime Injuries FAQ

First, to make sure no potential rewards are left unexplored, as maritime law is intricate with international concerns and multiple points of liability. Second, to make sure that all responsible parties are held to account if mistakes were made. Third, to take the burden of legal concerns off your shoulders and place them in the hands of a capable maritime injury attorney like those at Pierce Skrabanek.

Potentially yes. Updates to the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (aka the Jones Act) have expanded and clarified the legal definition of “seamen” to include dock and port workers as well as ship builders, breakers, and repairers. If 30% of your job entails duties related to the operation of maritime vessels, including offshore jobs like oil rigs, you may qualify for extra protections and insurances under the law.

Under the Jones Act, a maritime worker who is injured on the job is entitled to “maintenance and cure” which means coverage for lost wages, future economic loss, pain and suffering, mental anguish, PTSD support, disfigurement, and medical expenses. In the event of offshore injury or wrongful death, maritime injury lawyers at Pierce Skrabanek can help you navigate your rights under law.