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The Port of Baltimore has become an important and major U.S. port city. It is now home to thriving shipping and commercial boating industries. It has been setting new records for import and export activity and has been adding new international and domestic companies to its portfolio of businesses doing business at the port. Meanwhile, Port Annapolis is home to a thriving, vital commercial fishing industry in addition to a popular tourist industry that provides, among other seagoing attractions, scenic ferry rides.
All of this activity means economy. The maritime industry at these two ports provide jobs to thousands in Maryland and beyond. Many of these positions are found on the ships and include crew members and other workers. Working on ships and other water vessels — like barges, tugboats, ferries, drillships, and others — warrants hard working conditions regardless how much an employer or contractor does to provide for safe working conditions. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of machinery and people to pay attention to. There’s a lot of external factors to consider. All in all, working on a ship or other water vessel can be extremely dangerous, and injuries, including life-threatening ones, are not uncommon. If you have been injured while on a water vessel, you may qualify for benefits under maritime law.
Duty of Care
Owners and operators of ships and other water vessels are required to provide a safe working environment for all workers specifically and other persons generally who are on the boat. The owner and operator must provide a ship that is seaworthy, and this includes the provision of sufficiently trained employees along with adequate overall manpower. This duty of care is standard for all workboats under maritime law.
Types of Water Vessels
Water vessels each have their purpose in the maritime injury. Some types of water vessels have inherent dangers that put workers at higher risk for injury. The following are the main types of water vessels that use Maryland ports.
Container ships are a type of massive cargo ship structured so that it can hold huge quantities of compacted cargo in various styles of containers on the ship. These trips navigate the waters from port to port domestically and internationally for import and export purposes. Nearly half of all water vessels for maritime employment purposes are cargo or container ships.
Tankers are a very important component in most maritime commercial operations. These are ships mammoth in size. A tanker’s purpose is to ferry bulk loads of commodities and materials from one point to another. There are tankers that carry oil or chemicals, and other tankers that carry slurry (waste), hydrogen, juice, and wine. Most of the time tanker ships carry hazardous material.
Tugboats are small in size compared to their strength. As the name implies, these boats or small ships pull vessels that cannot move themselves, like platforms and barges or disabled ships. Tugboats are much larger today than they were a few decades ago. That said, they are still easily maneuvered in the open waters, but their growing size hampers the ease of navigation in narrower sea strips and harbors.
A barge is a water vessel that is used to carry cargo; it is a vessel that is dependent on other vessels to tug it from one point to another point. Barges are a solution to the problem of transporting cargo to ports to offload or unload. Larger container ships cannot travel in shallower or narrower waterways.
Other Work Boats
Work boats come in different sizes and shapes. They are efficient and versatile utility water vessels that perform multiple tasks from transporting personnel to other water vessels to providing a vessel for diving work purposes to directing the movement of barges.
Causes of Onboard Injuries
Maritime occupations are performed in often dangerous conditions regardless the amount of safety measures an employer, ship owner, or ship operator takes. The causes of onboard injuries are similar across the board, although some causes may be more inclined to occur on one type of water vessel over another, such as a chemic spill, which would be more likely to happen on a tanker than on any other water vessel.
There are things that can occur on the water vessel or there are things that can occur outside the water vessel, both of which lead to incidents that cause injuries or death. Those things that occur onboard a water vessel tend to be preventable causes of injury, which can also be causes of a negligence action.
Internal Causes of Accidents that Lead to Onboard Injuries
- Unseaworthy vessels, including engine failure or structural problems
- Electrical short circuits that can cause fire or explosions
- Falls from heights or into the water
- Unsecured objects falling and striking a crew member or worker
- Faulty or improperly maintained equipment that leads to malfunctions
- Improperly trained crew members performing jobs in an unsafe manner
- Insufficient safety gear to protect workers
- Chemical leaks that can cause toxic fumes, fires or explosions
- Kitchen accidents
External Causes of Accidents that Lead to Onboard Injuries
- Running Aground
- Collision at sea
- Water conditions
- Weather conditions
Most Common Onboard Injuries
There are a number of jobs that must be fulfilled onboard a ship or other water vessel in order to make sure everything is accomplished as it should. When everyone is undertaking their duties as trained and with the proper precautions, tasks are completed with minimal risk to injury. The tasks, however, are inherently dangerous and no matter what preparation or precautions are taken, the risk of injury or death cannot fully be prevented. Injuries that occur run the gambit from mild to severe, and there more common include
- Smoke inhalation
- Electrical shock
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Fractured bones
- Back and spinal cord injuries
- Cartilage or ligament tears
- Crush injuries
- Drowning and near-drowning injuries
- Respiratory disease
- Other diseases
- Toxic chemical exposure
Safety precautions should be put into place and upheld at all times for all those aboard ships and other water vessels. When safety protocols aren’t followed or when duties aren’t appropriately undertaken, it endangers everyone involved. The appropriate parties will be held liable for their actions if harm occurs due to negligence, reckless disregard, or intent.
The following are real-life examples of specific jobs and what multiple things can go horribly wrong while conducting work on a ship or other water vessel. Some cases involve negligence, other examples involve improper operations, while some involve a little of both.
Heavy Blows during Anchoring
During anchoring with spuds cast into the sea, workers on the vessel attempted to lift a spud on the right side of the ship, but were not able to lift it with the hydraulic system only. The workers decided to use a crane to lift the spud out of the water even though using cranes for such purposes was prohibited. Though the procedure may have worked, there was a wire hooked to the crane that fell off and struck a seaman’s head. The seaman died of traumatic intra-cerebral bleeding and brain contusion.
Caught in Machinery Working a Winch
Winches are very dangerous, and in one accident, a seaman was operating a winch to wind mooring rope, which is typical. The seaman used a remote controller to perform the task, but entered bad information that caused the rotation speed of the drum to increase to an unsafe speed. Attempting to prevent damage, the seaman stomped on the rope to prevent it from moving, but the seaman placed his foot in an eye of the rope. With his foot stuck, the rope pulled him in and he became caught in the drum. He suffered rib, pelvis and thigh bone fracture.
Anoxia While Working on a Tanker
During an operation to discharge tert-butyl alcohol, a liquid chemical substance, an officer entered the hold with a gas mask. The hold, however, was low on oxygen because nitrogen gas had been injected into it previously. Additionally, a drain plug was not installed inside the tank. It is assumed the officer was in a hurry to for the installation of the tank and simply forgot about the nitrogen gas. When he went into the hold, he inhaled the air that was low on oxygen and died from suffocation resulting from anoxia.
A worker entered a hazard area while he was engaged in decompressing a cargo tank. In the hazard area, he stepped in front of the gas outlet. The pressure from the emission of gas blew him off the tanker and into the water. It is unknown if he had sufficient notification or warning to keep out of hazard areas, but he drowned in the turbulent sea water.
Compensation for Onboard Injuries
A worker who is hurt onboard a ship or other water vessel has a right to compensation for his or her losses. Contingent on the circumstances, injured workers may be entitled to reimbursement for or payment of medical costs, therapy or rehabilitation, loss of earning capacity, loss of past and future wages. Again, depending on the circumstances, some workers or surviving family members may also be compensated for physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement, or physical limitations, all of which contribute to the decline in the quality of the worker’s life.
Laws have been made with the express intention to help victims of serious injuries or surviving family members who lost a loved one through no fault of their own. Compensation is meant to restore what you lost due to the accident, and though it will never fully restore what you lost, it provides a safety financial cushion so that you or loved ones do not have to bear the burden of physical pain and emotional stress compounded by financial hardship.
Laws Governing Damages
If you have been injured while on a ship or other water vessel at sea, your claim or lawsuit will likely be filed under maritime law as opposed to state law. Maritime law, however, is considerably complicated. To make sure you receive compensation and the right amount of compensation, you need to file your claim under the proper law(s). Doing it properly will be the difference that you can rebuild your life after your injury.
When you’re injured in a ship accident, you may be able to collect workers’ compensation payments under the Jones Act, but you also may be able to recover payment for other damages through the legal doctrines of Unseaworthiness or Maintenance and Cure. When the accident resulted in a death, as a surviving family member you may be able to sue for damages under the Death on the High Seas Act.
Not only is maritime law complex, but it’s specific to the situation and circumstances. To receive the maximum amount of compensation, you must (1) file under the appropriate law(s); (2) draft a claim or lawsuit that includes thoroughly investigated facts and persuasively applied legal theories and doctrine all of which address the specific maritime laws; and (3) negotiate or argue your case effectively and aggressively. As such, it is critical that you speak to and retain a knowledgeable Maryland maritime lawyer about your case.
Resourceful, Compassionate Representation in Maryland 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, and how to build a strategic case on your behalf. You can trust us to handle the legal process so that you can handle your own recovery process.
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.