Crab Boat Accidents

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Crab boat accidents happen more frequently than one might think. Imagine your “office” is an open-air deck rolling back and forth on the frigid, tumultuous waves of the Bering Sea. The office equipment consists of several 700-pound steel crab pots, countless cables, bait bags, and survival suits. A good night’s sleep is practically impossible to come by. A storm is brewing, and you have a quota to fill.

Commercial crab fishing is not a job for the faint of heart. The costs of building and maintaining a crab boat is mind-bogglingly expensive. The working environment is fast-paced with high stakes in one of the world’s most unforgiving climates – a deep water basin separating two continental shelves.

For many years, crab fishing held the title of world’s most dangerous job. The chances of being injured on the job is almost guaranteed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 97% of all crab boat fatalities were caused from a worker falling overboard. It’s a billion-dollar business to put seafood on American dinner tables, and many fishermen feel it’s well worth the risk.

General maritime law and the Jones Act protects crab fishermen who have been injured on the job by providing compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering.

The attorneys of Pierce Skrabanek have decades of experience working on maritime law and Jones Act cases. If you’ve been injured while working on a crab boat, our committed team of maritime attorneys want to secure you maximum compensation, so you can focus on healing.

Crab Fishing: Not Your Average Workforce

It only took one season of The Deadliest Catch for the average American to understand just how dangerous and stressful the crab fishing industry is. Ten seasons later, we still can’t look away. Crab fishing isn’t just a job, it’s a community of courageous men who continue their work despite the knowledge that some of them will never return home.

A typical crab boat will have a captain, an engineer, a few deckhands and a greenhorn, or rookie. Crabbing vessels aren’t very long, typically under 250 ft. The deck is packed with steel crab pots, making work space cramped in addition to wet, constantly rolling, and freezing.

Crab boat crews spend 3-4 months at a time braving 70 foot waves and cold temperature of the Bering Sea. Their shifts may last as long as 20 hours before any one of them has a chance at even a short nap. The captain relies on intuition to find the best fishing spots, and may go as many as 36 sleepless hours before handing over the helm.

For deckhands, manning the hydraulics requires unparalleled focus. The slightest mistake can be painful, if not deadly. For instance, a cameraman filming for the popular TV show fell through the boat’s crab hatch and broke three ribs. A greenhorn could have easily made the same mistake. On a crab boat, you have to be alert at all times.

Crab Fishing in Texas

Blue crab is harvested in the balmy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are still plenty of storms and hurricanes for fishermen to contend with, though not nearly as treacherous as the Bering Sea. The threat of drowning due to freezing water temperatures is greatly diminished.  Crab boat crews must still remain vigilant for falling cables, misfired hydraulic arms and equipment malfunction.

Crab Fishing Industry Improvements

Before 2006, the crab fishing industry ran on a derby system.  Boats would register to fish for as much crab as they could possibly catch in four days. Once the season started, hundreds of vessels and their crews would rush into the Bering Sea or Gulf of Mexico, trying to catch a million-dollar crab payload in as little time as possible.

It’s easy to see how this added pressure almost guarantees injuries and fatalities to occur. Many times eager seamen would overload the deck with pots full of king and blue crab, causing the boat to capsize.

Hoping to improve safety and preserve other species of crab caught up in the traps, the individual fishing quota system was put into place. Now crab boat owners have the whole season, instead of mere days, to fulfill their quota. Despite the slower pace of crab fishing, injuries on the boat are still rampant. There’s still human error, negligence and unseaworthy vessels to contend with.

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Common Crab Boat Injuries

Considering the unforgiving natural hazards and heavy machinery, even the most vigilant deckhand or engineer is bound to be injured at least once in their career as a crab fisherman.

Drowning remains the number one cause of death among crab fishermen, either from falling overboard or due to a boat capsizing. Other injuries may range from minor to major, and can include:

  • Broken bones
  • Hypothermia
  • Sprains and strains
  • Cracked ribs
  • Frostbite
  • Slip and fall
  • Loss of hearing or vision
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Hand, wrist and foot injuries

Losing a friend and fellow crab fisherman takes an emotional toll on the close-knit crab fishing community. It’s not uncommon for a crew member who has survived a capsized vessel or sinking event to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Other illnesses such as heart attack, pulmonary embolism or pneumonia may befall captain or crew.

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Crab Boat Accidents and The Jones Act

We hope it goes without saying that the very first thing you should do when injured on a crab vessel is seek medical attention and report the injury to your supervisor.

Many times injuries and fatalities on a crab boat are due to the negligence of another person or a vessel that is unseaworthy. Maritime law and the Jones Act allows injured seamen to seek damages for injuries, including past and future lost wages, therapy and medical expenses and compensation for pain and suffering.

However, the circumstances surrounding each case are unique. Claims under the Jones Act requires seamen to prove their injuries were directly related to the vessel owner’s negligence. The law also has strict time limits for filing claims, waiting to file could cause you to lose valuable rights. As time passes, it may be harder to connect injuries to the vessel they occurred on.

For these reasons, it is important that you reach out to a maritime attorney as soon as possible after you or a loved one has been injured on a crab boat.


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How a Maritime Injury Attorney Can Help You

Maritime law is a complex legal field that calls for attorneys who are steadfast, dedicated and meticulous. At Pierce Skrabanek, we are those attorneys. Over the years we’ve helped many seamen, longshoremen and crab fishermen obtain compensation for their injuries.

Past victories we’ve won for our clients include:

  • $16.9 million verdict for a Jones Act seaman who contracted pneumonia.
  • $14 million verdict for a Jones Act seaman who suffered TBI and orthopedic injury
  • $2.4 million settlement for an injured vessel engineer

If you or a loved one has been injured on a crab fishing vessel, we want to help you get the compensation you deserve. A case evaluation is always free and at no obligation to you.

Call us today at (832) 690-7200 or use the form on this page to learn your legal options.

The attorneys of Pierce | Skrabanek understand the danger crab fishermen face on the job.

Frequently Asked Questions

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