Maritime law is complicated. It covers a wide range of legal topics, situations, and circumstances. It also covers personal injuries sustained while at a port, offshore, or at sea. If you are on this page, that probably means you have been injured and that you have lots of questions. We hope to answer some of the more common questions for you. But you should realize, each case is unique, the circumstances and facts vary, and some or all of these answers may not address or apply to your case specifically.
What is a Maritime Accident?
In the high seas, there are many things that can go awry and cause an incident, and whether you are on a ship or other water vessel, injuries follow the incident. Maritime accidents can be accidents that happen among persons on the ship, or accidents that occur with the ship itself. Many times, injuries may simply be bruised egos, but other times, injuries can be more severe, even life-threatening. Historically, a maritime accident was something was defined as an accident that happened on the high seas only, but today, a maritime accident also encompasses accidents that happen at ports or offshore.
A maritime accident, by its very nature of occurring in or around the ocean and other waterways, is governed primarily by specific federal law. In some instances, however, a maritime accident may be governed by state law.
Can I file a personal injury claim against the shipowner?
Yes, but it depends on the situation. First, the process and the governing laws vary according to your status as a worker, seaman, or passenger. Second, depending on the latter, different federal statutes will take effect to resolve your maritime personal injury case. But if you want to file a claim against the shipowner specifically, then the shipowner must have been negligent in some way, either by a negligent act a negligent omission to act.
Generally speaking, compensation for a seaman can be obtained through the Jones Act, Maintenance and Cure, and the Unseaworthiness doctrine. For other workers, it can be obtained through the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act or Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, depending on the worker and where the accident occurred. Passengers are generally able to file claims under maritime personal injury or the adjoining state personal injury law, depending on the circumstances.
What is the ship owner or operator required to do to protect me from injury at sea?
Because working in the maritime industry is considerably more dangerous than any other occupations, safety laws and regulations have been developed over the years to reduce accidents and injuries. For maritime workers on ships, rest assured that the ship owner and/or ship operator owes a high standard of care to you. There are a number of things and actions they must provide and do to protect both workers and non-workers on their ships or other water vessel. A vessel or ship owner must:
- Provide safe working conditions on the boat.
- Uphold all safety regulations and standards.
- Inspect and maintain equipment on board a vessel to ensure it is seaworthy, which means a water vessel that is reasonably fit for its intended use. The failure of equipment under proper and expected use is enough to establish an unseaworthiness claim.
- Ensure that the ship or water vessel itself is seaworthy, or reasonably fit for its intended use. The failure of a ship to be fit for sea is enough to establish an unseaworthiness claim.
- Provide a crew that can operate the ship or vessel in a reasonably adequate and competent manner for the work assigned. The failure of employing trained crew or sufficient crew members is enough to establish an unseaworthiness claim.
- Provide adequate safety equipment for the vessel. If safety equipment or gear is not provided, then it is enough to establish an unseaworthiness claim.
You should also know that a vessel owner or shipowner is not required to furnish a ship that is accident-free. The vessel, its parts and equipment do not have to be the best but must be reasonably proper and suitable for their intended use while the crew must only be reasonably competent and adequate.
What are some of the safety issues that can happen on a ship or other water vessel?
Without a doubt and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the maritime industry is the most dangerous industry for employment. Any and every type of safety risk or concern is present in the industry. That said, some of the more common safety issues and some of which are unique to the industry are described below:
Employees in the maritime business must ensure that their employees are well-trained for their respective positions. Maritime workers are dealing with heavy machinery, environmental conditions, among other circumstances, which makes their training vital to safe and successful performance. An inadequately trained employee can pose a serious risk. If he is unsure exactly how to work a crane and picks up a heavy load and drops it, catastrophe can happen. Training is not just about skill and knowing what to do in the position or how to operate a machine, it's also about safety precautions and knowing when to do what. Well-trained workers can perform their tasks well and are able to assess the situation to prevent harm. Untrained workers may not successfully perform tasks and are not able to accurately assess the situation to prevent harm.
There are a number of products, heavy machinery, that are used at ports, offshore and on water vessels. From cranes to trawlers, the equipment is bulky, cumbersome and difficult to operate. Precision is often required. But when a product is defective, no matter how skilled a worker is, serious consequences can follow at the time the defect is realized or manifests.
Diving is a safety risk to maritime commercial divers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that commercial divers are dying at a rate 40 times greater than all other workers. In this case, their job is the safety risk. Divers in the maritime industry sue scuba gear to inspect, repair, remove and install equipment and structure. In the course of their job, they use various tools, like sledgehammers, torches drills and welding equipment.
From tankers to other vessels, a wide variety of chemical are being hauled and/or used or created during the course of work. If not being transported, chemicals are used for the purpose of cleaning things, e.g., tanks. Certain chemicals are also a byproduct of the material decomposition that comes from products and equipment. Toxic chemicals are a fire risk as much as they are toxic fumes risk. Special precautions must be taken when working around toxic chemicals.
Explosions & Fires
Explosions and fire are common in the maritime industry. They can result from employer or employee negligence (e.g., a chef catches food on fire) or they can result from defective products or parts. Ships require significant amounts of oil to operate, and that alone is a risk of explosion or fire, but ships carry other chemicals and if improperly maintained, used, stored, etc., accidents can happen in the form of an explosion or fire.
Severe weather, improper design, the absence of important elements, poor operation, among other things can lead to a vessel sinking. A vessel sinking is the ultimate risk for any worker or non-worker on a ship or other water vessel.
How Are Safety Issues Regulated?
The maritime industry is subject to multiple safety standards and regulations, but the primary source of safety regulation is founded in the Occupational Safety and Hazard Association (OSHA). OSHA addresses occupational safety and health enforcement for the maritime industries through strict adherence to policies, which include regular on-site inspections and training, and OSHA also provides technical assistance and information.
There are also some safety regulations under the Jones act, which exists in part to protect workers earning a livelihood on seagoing vessels, and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which exists in most part to protect the rights of maritime workers who support maritime industry onshore, mostly at ports or shipyards. There are also legal doctrines, like the doctrine of unseaworthiness, that imposes certain safety requirements on vessel or ship owners and/or operators.
How long do I have to file a claim?
Like everything in maritime law, qualification always depends on the exact circumstances of the injury and the relevant law. Generally, you have three years is you are a worker and were injured, but if you were a passenger, it depends on the terms of the ticket you purchased, which in many cases may be only 1 year. Thus, in the former instance, you have more time than most states allot for filing a personal injury, while in the latter instance, you have less time than most states allot for filing a personal injury. In all situations, there is the possibility that a statute of limitations may be extended if it's a case of not “discovering” the injury (or illness) until later.
In all situations, you want to consult with an experienced maritime personal injury lawyer to make sure in your unique circumstances you file a personal injury claim within the appropriate time.
What rights do I have if I have been injured in a maritime accident?
Whether you are a worker or not, if you have been injured in a maritime accident, you have rights. The following are the basic rights owed to you.
- The right to an attorney. You have the right to an attorney unless you are a passenger of a cruise and the terms of the ticket require disputes to be arbitrated in mediation or other forum. Trial attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian work on a contingency basis, so you don't pay us until you get compensated for your injuries.
- The right to independent medical care. A company cannot force you to see a specific doctor, especially those that are affiliated with the company. It is your legal right to go to a medical facility or healthcare provider that you choose.
- The right to not talk. An insurance company will want a statement. Or, an employer -- through your boss or another individual -- may want a statement. In either case, they are trained to manipulate. Their goal is to get you to admit fault in some capacity, or to sign documents that waive the company's liability, or to sneak in a quick settlement that doesn't cover full and just compensation. You do not have to talk. You are entitled to legal representation, and it is in your best interests to retain an attorney before you do talk -- if you talk.
- The right to have medical bills paid or reimbursed. If you were injured in a maritime accident through no fault of your own but the fault of another individual or entity, then you are entitled to have your medical expenses paid or reimbursed. In some cases, the proof of fault is not a prerequisite to payment or reimbursement. It is completely contingent your status, where the accident happened, and who caused the accident. You may also have, depending on the same circumstances, the right to recover additional damages, not just medical expenses.
- The right to heal. You have the right to recover fully from your injuries before commencing work again. An employer may push you to return to work by offering limited work duties, but to do so could put you at risk of further injury or prolonging the healing period. Only when your physician releases you for work are you then obligated to return to work.
You should know, too, that if you were the cause of your own injury, then depending on the circumstances, you may not be entitled to all of the above-stated rights -- specifically the right to have medical bills paid or reimbursed. That said, you should never assume the accident was the fault of yours alone.
In many cases when seamen or others believed they didn't have a right to recover because the accident was their fault, it turned out that the accident wasn't actually the cause of their own doing or not doing, but the fault of something or someone else's negligence. Always, if you are a maritime worker, consult with a maritime attorney to be sure, or if you are a non-maritime worker, consult with a personal injury lawyer to be certain. Either way, you can contact Gilman & Bedigian, our trial lawyers in both maritime law and personal injury are available to discuss your case with you.
Can I file a personal injury claim or lawsuit on my own?
Yes, you can. But you shouldn't.
Maritime law is exceedingly complex. If you don't file under the appropriate law or file within the statute of limitations, you may risk compensation. Or, alternatively, you may not know all sources of potential compensation and may inadvertently miss opportunities. The daunting task of understanding and knowing which law applies to your specific case is difficult enough. Then the claim itself exacerbates the process. An investigation may be needed to uncover all the facts. Legal theories will need to be applied coherently and persuasively. Documentation will need to be thorough and complete. These tasks, among others, can require more than a single person, and more than what it takes to commit to a full-time job. If you are trying to recover from an injury, then you shouldn't add additional stress to your recovery process.
And if it's money you are trying to save, then you should know: at Gilman & Bedigian, we work on a contingency fee basis. We don't get paid until you receive fair and just compensation. We also have the resources, the experience, and the knowledge to deliver a successful claim on your behalf.
Resourceful, Compassionate Representation for Your Onboard Injury
At Gilman & Bedigian, we have the knowledge, skill, and resources to pursue your case and obtain the maximum possible compensation. We understand how vessels work, how injuries like yours happen through negligence, and how to build a case using the best evidence and experts. Let us handle your case so that you can focus of recovery and rebuilding your life.
If you or someone you love has been injured on a shit or other water vessel while working in the maritime industry, you may be eligible for compensation under maritime law. The law is complex, but trial lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian are experienced maritime personal injury trial lawyers and are committed to helping you receive just and fair compensation. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162.