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Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico Highlights Worker Risk

As the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico spreads, the other tragedy in the oil rig explosion is being overshadowed. On April 20, when a deep-water oil well rig platform off the coast of Louisiana exploded, 11 oil rig workers were killed.

The families of the 11 deceased workers and the dozens of workers injured in the explosion are now filing lawsuits against rig owner Transocean and BP, which leased the rig. Several of the suits accuse the companies of knowingly operating a rig that was unseaworthy, wasn't properly maintained and did not meet federal safety standards.

In addition, a lawsuit was filed April 29 on behalf of an oil rig worker who was thrown 30 feet down a hallway and knocked unconscious during the explosion. The suit cites the federal Jones Act, which is designed to protect offshore workers from employer negligence. The injured employee is hoping to recover money for past and future medical expenses, as well as money to compensate for his loss of future earning capacity due to his injuries.

The involved companies are clearly aware of the physical dangers of offshore drilling work. The Insurance Information Institute reports that BP and related companies are insured for $1.4 billion in potential losses related to the disaster. This includes comprehensive general liability for personal injury and property damage claims, plus workers' compensation coverage.

While popular TV shows highlight deep-sea fishing as one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, other offshore work is also deadly. Since 2001, an estimated 69 workers have died. According to the federal Minerals Management Service, 1,349 have been injured and 858 fires and explosions have occurred on offshore oil rigs.

Moreover, the April coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners points to the high danger of many jobs in the extractive industries. In that case, mine operator Massey Energy Co. faces personal injury lawsuits as well as criminal charges.

Victims and their families are within their rights to file wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against oil rig operators and other extractive industry corporations. It not only provides compensation for workers and their families, but also sends an important message to the companies that they need to clean up their operations and look out for employee safety.

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