Maritime Injury Claims

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Working aboard a ship can be difficult and dangerous. Moreover, the impact of serious injuries can be significant not only in terms of lost work and suffering, but also because of ongoing medical and rehabilitation costs.

Maintenance and Cure: Compensation for Maritime Injuries

In the United States, workmens' compensation for most seamen is governed by the principle of maintenance and cure. This principle states that shipowners have an obligation to provide for the medical care and basic living expenses of seamen injured on the job. If an injury occurs owing to negligence on the part of a shipowner or another employee, the seaman may also have a right to compensation under the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act.

Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Workmens' compensation for longshoremen (workers who load and unload cargo and are employed by private stevedoring companies rather than by a shipowner) is provided for under the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.  In some cases, a longshoreman may also sue a ship’s owner for negligence if there has been a failure to maintain the ship’s equipment, tools and work spaces (see Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos (1981) 451 US 156, 68 L.Ed 2d 1, 101S Ct 1614).

In some instances, family members of deceased maritime workers may make wrongful death claims based on negligence and general maritime law. In a leading U.S. Supreme Court case, Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drywall Corp. v. Garris, 121 S. Ct. 1927 (2001),  the mother of a man who died while working on a ship berthed in navigable waters was able to file a wrongful death claim against the shipbuilder.  

Common injuries associated with maritime work include:

  • Drowning
  • Soft tissue and disk-related back injuries
  • Knee injuries
  • Fractures
  • Severe burns
  • Dismemberment
  • Exposure to ammonia and other chemicals

These injuries often result from accidents involving pressurized pipes and pipe caps, ship/port and ship/platform collisions, and the use of unseaworthy vessels.   Under federal law, a vessel may be deemed “unseaworthy” if there is any unreasonably dangerous condition present onboard.

Talk to a Maritime Attorney

If you are injured in the course of maritime-related employment, it is critical to immediately report the incident to your supervisor and seek medical attention. However, do not give a taped or written statement until you have consulted with an experienced and qualified maritime attorney. Many employers and insurers may try to obtain statements or waivers that can hinder an injured person's ability to obtain a full and fair financial settlement.

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