Maritime Worker Injuries

One who makes his or her living working at sea is generally known in the industry as a “seaman”. To be legally classified as a “seaman” one’s job activity must be substantially connected to the work of the vessel in both the nature and the duration of the vessel’s mission. The vessel must be “in navigation”. A vessel “in navigation” is one that is operating on waters which are capable of supporting interstate commerce. Whether working on a commercial cargo carrier, a cruise line, or a transoceanic oil tanker, these folks are often working in very dangerous environments. Many responsible multinational maritime corporations have established entire departments dedicated to compliance with international and federal safety regulations designed to promote crew safety.

Even though some companies comply with safety standards and regulations, many others do not. These conglomerates often require their workers to utilize outdated heavy equipment, work on dangerous projects with little to no supervision, and some do not even provide their crewmembers with the necessary safety training and protective equipment.

In contrast to a land-based job, a maritime worker who is injured due to the negligence of his employer (or due to the negligence of a co-employee) is legally entitled to bring a lawsuit for compensation against his employer for damages that include not just lost wages and medical expenses but also damages for non-economic losses. These include pain and suffering, bodily injury, disability, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, aggravation of a preexisting disease, condition, or physical defect, and loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life.

In seeking to enforce a worker’s legal rights, The Ellsley Law Firm pursues three separate and distinct legal causes of action for our clients who were in the maritime industry: Unseaworthiness, Jones Act Negligence, and Maintenance and Cure.

Unseaworthiness refers to the situation in which a vessel owner or operator fails to provide a seaman with a vessel that is “seaworthy”. A vessel is seaworthy if the vessel is reasonably fit for the vessel’s intended purpose. Some examples of an “unseaworthy” vessel are: insufficient number of workers, structural damage to the hull, cargo that exceeds weight limitations, careless navigation by the captain, inadequate safety equipment, slippery decks, broken communication devices, or simply an unsafe working environment.

Jones Act Negligence refers to the Jones Act 46 U.S.C. App. s. 688. In contrast to a land-based job, a maritime worker who is injured due to the negligence of his employer (or due to the negligence of a co-employee) is legally entitled to bring a lawsuit for compensation against his employer for damages that include not just lost wages and medical expenses (“Maintenance and Cure”) but also damages for non-economic losses. These include pain and suffering, bodily injury, disability, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, aggravation of a preexisting disease, condition, or physical defect, and loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life. Just as the Jones Act provides seamen with a legal remedy for on-the-job injuries, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) Title 33 U.S.C. ss. 901-950, protects those who work at shore-based maritime jobs. These are the stevedores, crane operators, and cargo engineers who often work during the long midnight to morning hours at our deep-water ports.

Maintenance and Cure refers to the medical and wage benefits that an employer is required to provide to an injured seaman. Essentially, these are the workers compensation type benefits. The term “Maintenance” refers to the compensation for wage loss when the employee is medically unable to work. Most seamen are members of a union. The largest union is the American Maritime Officers (AMO). AMO is involved with the collective bargaining negotiations that go on with the maritime industry. Although they have been successful in obtaining some important concessions from the large corporations, an injured union worker is sometimes shocked when he receives the check for $12 a day to cover his “Maintenance”. That’s right, $12 a day is a common rate under the collective bargaining agreement for most job descriptions. This seriously complicates matters for an injured and out of work seaman, especially one with a spouse and children that must be housed, fed, and clothed.

The term “Cure” refers to the medical treatment that the employer must provide until the employee reaches a maximum level of medical improvement, commonly referred to MMI. The problems arise when an injured worker is told to go back to work before, he or she feels physically able to do the work. Unfortunately, many doctors paid for by employers often send the injured workers back to the job earlier than they really should. This is to be expected because the doctors are being paid by the employers and the compensation for the doctors is generally at a flat rate, leaving the physician with no incentive to treat the worker on a long-term basis.

The Ellsley Law Firm have experience representing clients who have suffered all manner of injuries while working as seamen – from a simple slip and fall on a greasy floor in the kitchen of a cruise ship’s main dining cabin, all the way to a 45 foot fall from the deck of an oil tanker onto a pilot boat resulting in catastrophic injuries requiring more than 20 surgeries.