It is no secret that working offshore can be very dangerous work. Because the maritime industry has been around for centuries, the law in the United States has been able to develop so that there are a lot of rules and regulations governing the responsibilities maritime companies must uphold to keep their offshore workers safe. These companies have the advantage of knowing their responsibilities, but that doesn't mean they share this knowledge with their employees. What that means is that many maritime workers who become injured do not know their rights and simply trust in their employer to "do the right thing."
Working offshore or on vessels usually means you have a relatively good income to take care of yourself or your family. Life doesn't stop after you've been injured. If your offshore income is what keeps your bills at bay and house afloat, its easy to want to place faith in your employer after you get injured on the job. The problem is that your employer wants you to trust them for the wrong reasons.
On June 3, 2017, it was announced that the sizeable Herbon oil platform started its two week journey from Bull Arm, St. John's, to the Grand Banks. Eight tow vessels were used to carry the massive platform to its destination.
Last month the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service (CBP) announced that it will suspend and reconsider a set of regulatory amendments to the Jones Act that were proposed by the Obama administration.
On March 9, 2017, the Supreme Court of Washington held that a Jones Act seaman could recover punitive damages in an unseaworthiness claim. At least within the state of Washington, this ruling clarified previous confusion regarding applicability of common law damages for unseaworthiness claims. The case involved a plaintiff who lost two of his fingers while moving fish below deck. A hatch with a broken handle could not be closed in time and severed the plaintiff's fingers. The plaintiff alleged that the vessel operators knew about the broken handle but failed to repair it.
Like most maritime accident claims, injuries to longshoremen and stevedores can involve a complex web of state and federal laws. The Longshore and Harbor Worker's Compensation Act (LHWCA) and case law interpreting the LHWCA outline three duties that vessel owners and operators owe to longshoremen and stevedores. First, the vessel owner and operator have a turnover duty. That duty requires that owners and operators turn their vessel over to the longshoremen and stevedores without hidden dangers. This duty does not require that ship owners and operators remedy open and obvious conditions or easily-anticipated conditions. The vessel's turnover duty is one of the most litigated duties that vessel owners and operators owe to longshoremen and stevedores.
Unlike typical personal injury lawsuits, claims involving ships and vessels may be subject to special rules that can limit the damages an injured party is entitled to receive following a lawsuit. While most lawsuits seek recovery for the entirety of medical and property damages incurred by an injured individual, these admiralty actions, known as Limitation Actions, can reduce or even eliminate the amount of money available to be awarded.
Yesterday, four oil platform workers jumped off an oil production platform off the coast of Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to flee an early morning fire that threatened to cause serious bodily injury. Luckily, the workers were quickly recovered from the water by a responding vessel. No injuries have been reported thus far, but it remains to be seen if these workers suffered any internal injuries from smoke inhalation or from the trauma of jumping into the water.
The United States Coast Guard called off the search for two missing crewmembers of the fishing vessel Exito in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, following several days of intense search operations involving multiple Coast Guard and good Samaritan vessels and aircraft. The missing crewmembers abandoned ship after the vessel began taking on water for an undetermined cause. The Exito was one of 25 vessels selected in 2004 for a $97 million federal buyout. As a part of the deal, the Exito was retired and barred from commercial fishing anywhere in the world. At the time of its sinking, the Exito was engaged in cargo or freight purposes. Three crewmembers were luckily rescued, but the two missing individuals are presumed lost at sea.
When a seaman is hurt at work, many employers seek to avoid responsibility by paying "advances" while the seaman is recovering and undergoing medical treatment. By law, the employer of an injured Jones Act seaman is required to pay that seamen maintenance and cure benefits. At the end of a case, employers are not permitted reimbursement for proper maintenance and cure benefits. However, if an employer characterizes payments as "advances," then the company can try to get repaid that money out of any settlement or amount a jury may award at trial.